Narrowing the Achievement Gap and Opening New Doors

While on a phone conversation earlier last week I was asked the question “How do you ensure equity and access in mathematics instruction?”  Though I had thought about this issue (equity and access) for a long time, dating back to when I taught ESL NewComer classes in the early 90’s and now in 2018 (almost 30 years later), I still really don’t know the best way to broach this question. To be honest with you all, the truth is not every child is being provided with the significant resources nor the right conditions for success. So many educational disparities still exist, particularly for children of color and those who live in poverty.

In the early 90’s I taught a NewComers program, in which we had Hmong, Mixtec, Laotian, Russian and Mexican children who had recently arrived in Fresno, who spoke little, to no English.  Our charge was to help them develop language so that they could be successful in school and life. We were doing phenomenal work at the time, but these children were with us for just a part of the day, there was no way we could ensure they were receiving the same quality of education within their classrooms.  Our goals of keeping these children at the forefront, recognizing each one for who they were as individuals, honoring what they could do in their primary language and scaffolding English onto that, connecting their parents with community agencies and providing training on how they (parents) could better support their child’s education and help them navigate the educational system, but was that enough?

Because I was asked the question “How do you ensure equity and access in mathematics instruction?” I was reminded of how biases can hinder ensuring that all children receive access to high-quality instruction. For this reason, it is critical to acknowledge our biases and see past them. To look beyond physical features, language, socio-economic status, parent’s education and consider the children in front of you like they were your own. What type of quality education do you wish for your child?  Secondly, I was reminded of how the word “fair” which defined means “In accordance with rules or standards” is used in phrases such as “I treat my children fairly.” As a professor stated in a lecture one day, “Fair is giving someone something they need when they need it – imagine you have a heart attack right now here in class, and because I wanted to be fair I performed CPR on another classmate, would you want me to be fair?” His point was sometimes to be fair (equitable) we need to think beyond a one size fits all model, there are multiple ways to provide children with access to the core.

So, as I come to an end of this blog, I ask you to consider equity and access as you plan and engage with your students and I encourage you to be flexible, recognize and embrace differences and entrust that all children can and are eager to learn and that all parents send their best!

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