Message from NCSM President, Paul Gray


As long as I’ve been teaching, equity has been called out as a priority. As a matter of fact, mathematics leaders like NCSM Past President the Rev. Dr. Dorothy Strong positioned equity at the center of their
work in the 1960s and 1970s. Wonder why?

Remember that when I started Kindergarten in 1978, my school district in Houston had just desegregated their schools by a federal court order. In districts like mine that segregated Black students, and those in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands that segregated
Mexican-American students, equity started with simply including all students in the same building and same classrooms. And don’t forget that as recently as the 1990s, Indigenous students in the U.S. and Canada were still being removed from their families and placed in residential schools with the goal of stripping them of their Indigenous language, culture, and ways of knowing. We’re talking less than 30 years ago.


My first teaching job was in Chickasha, Oklahoma, a small town southwest of Oklahoma City. South central Oklahoma is home of the Chickasaw Nation, lands given to them by the U.S. government. The Chickasaw Nation was forced to leave their ancestral homelands of what is now northern Mississippi, western Tennessee, and nearby regions and marched along the Trail of Tears to Indian Territory (learn more here). When Indian Territory was opened up tonon-Indigenous settlement in the 1890s, white and Black settlers saw the opportunity to own their own land and create their own communities. Yet, in 1990s Chickasha, we had serious inequities among white,
Black, and Indigenous students. Those inequities were, of course, rooted in larger social and systemic inequities that centered white families and intentionally pushed Black and Indigenous families to the margins. I cherish the short time I spent teaching in Chickasha. I met good people and early mentors who helped set me on the path to become a better educator and leader. And even a young 20- something me could recognize that, intentionally or not, we treated our Black and Indigenous students


By 2000, when NCTM published their groundbreaking Principles and Standards for School Mathematics, I was teaching high school in Houston and working on my master’s degree in curriculum at the University of Houston. One of the strongest pieces of PSSM was its Equity Principle. Built from previous work in the late 1980s and 1990s, the Equity Principle is where NCTM boldly proclaimed that:


…all students, regardless of their personal characteristics, backgrounds, or physical

challenges, must have opportunities to study – and support to learn – mathematics.

Equity does not mean that every student should receive identical instruction; instead, it

demands that reasonable and appropriate accommodations be made as needed to

promote access and attainment for all students…The vision of equity in mathematics

education challenges a pervasive societal belief in North America that only some students

are capable of learning mathematics (p. 12).


Concurrently, the mathematics vision in the district where I taught (yes, that same district that segregated Black students in separate schools until 1977), emphatically espoused the belief that all students could learn mathematics. Period. No buts. On my campus, we were proud of our open- enrollment Advanced Placement (AP) program where all students could enroll in AP and Pre-AP courses regardless of their prior learning experiences. In our enthusiasm to pat ourselves on the back for doing
good equity work, we forgot about NCTM’s clause, “and support to learn mathematics.” We just leapt right to the opportunities to study and didn’t necessarily provide the supports we should have.


Fortunately, as Maya Angelou once said, when we know better, we can do better. We now know that opening the door and inviting students inside with a warm smile is not enough. We must intentionally create supports to ensure that all students who study powerful mathematics, regardless of how we label the course, will be successful in their studies. We must intentionally look for hidden (and sometimes not-so-hidden) barriers that cause certain groups of students to demur when given the opportunity to
engage in powerful mathematics. And when we find them, we must intentionally remove them.


Equity will not happen by itself. Dusty Springfield once sang about wishing, hoping, thinking, and praying. That might work to land yourself a man, but it will not work for equity. We can no longer stand back, convince ourselves that we are not racist, not sexist, not anti-Semitic, not homophobic, or not any of the other -isms, and wait for equity to come to us. We must be intentional in our actions toward equity.


Y’all be careful. We’ll touch base again in March!



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