Equity standards can
lower math abilities
I was alarmed to see national news reports claiming that Virginia, in the name of equity, would not allow students through the 10th grade to take accelerated math classes. The April 27 article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch clarified that the Virginia Department of Education’s potential standards revision would not happen until 2023. The racial equity proposal, the Mathematics Pathways Initiative, being adopted by some other states, seeks to reduce disparity between minority students and others. Even though State Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane assures us that accelerated classes will not be taken away, I am afraid that over the next two years, pressure to conform to equity standards will prevail.
As a former mathematics teacher, I oppose equity standards because they lower students’ mathematics abilities, leaving them unprepared for college mathematics. Equity philosophy assumes the way to reduce race disparities is to keep all of the students in lockstep, not allowing higher-achieving students to take accelerated classes. Of course, this erroneously assumes the higher-achieving students are all other students and that minority students aren’t intellectually capable of success in accelerated mathematics classes. To reduce racial disparity, educators should work with parents and schools should provide more support outside of class.
African American mathematician Katherine Johnson, who recently died in February 2020, worked at NASA in its early days. Honored by the book and the movie, “Hidden Figures,” she is a hero and a great role model for all mathematics students but especially for African American girls. Fortunate to have gone to schools where accelerated classes were allowed, she graduated college at age 18. Being able to take advantage of accelerated classes was the key to her success at NASA and we need to make that available to all of our students.