Critical Issue:
Ensuring Equity and Excellence in Mathematics

ISSUE: All students, regardless of race, ethnic group, gender, socioeconomic status, geographic location, age, language, disability, or prior mathematics achievement, deserve equitable access to challenging and meaningful mathematics learning and achievement. This concept has profound implications for teaching and learning mathematics throughout the school community. It suggests that ensuring equity and excellence must be at the core of systemic reform efforts, not only in mathematics, but in education as a whole.

OVERVIEW: Educators and community members are beginning to recognize that most students, including a disproportionate number of women, minorities, and the poor, leave school without the mathematical skills they need to thrive in an increasingly complex, global economy.

A tradition of low expectations, changing workforce needs, economic necessity, and shifting demographics call for unprecedented reform in mathematics education. Responses to this call for reform have included the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics' (NCTM's) Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics (1989), NCTM's Professional Standards for Teaching Mathematics (1991), and portions of the National Education Goals established by the Goals 2000: Educate America Act (1994). Behind Goals 2000 and the NCTM standards is the conviction that all students can learn a significant core of mathematics and that the entire school community must have high expectations for every child's mathematics education.

In Reaching All Students With Mathematics (Cuevas & Driscoll, 1993b), an NCTM task force gave special attention to programs that work to ensure equity and excellence for all students. These programs and other exemplary programs implement high standards and often foster cultural and linguistic diversity in an effort to increase the participation and success of underrepresented groups. Many of the best practices of such programs can be adapted for individual school communities.



DIFFERENT POINTS OF VIEW: Some people believe that inherent differences in ability among males and females, racial and socioeconomic groups, and individual students make high expectations for all students unrealistic and ill-conceived. Although research generally has discredited this view, the debate has been reopened by a recent book, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, by Murray and Herrnstein.

Parents of gifted students and some educators fear that gifted students will suffer if high-end tracking and ability grouping are eliminated. They also question the appropriateness of having these students serve as peer tutors in heterogeneous, cooperative learning environments as the primary experience of gifted education. They are not convinced that ensuring equity and excellence for all students will improve the educational experiences of gifted students.

Parents of minority students are concerned about new math standards and curricula that deemphasize paper-and-pencil computation. Computation skills often are associated with mathematical competence, and the lack of mastery of these skills has been used to justify denying opportunities to minority students. Therefore, these parents are not convinced that mathematics reform is in the best interests of their children (Secada, 1994).

IMPLEMENTATION PITFALLS: Teachers, school leaders, students, parents, and community members may have differing conceptions of equity, making the goal of achieving equity and excellence more problematic.

According to Michael Apple (1992) (cited in Century, 1994), poor schools already in advanced states of decay may view the NCTM Standards as unattainable and beneficial only to more wealthy schools and districts; they may see reform merely as intrusive outside control that will perpetuate - rather than eliminate - inequalities. All schools involved in reform will have to understand and share the democratic vision that underlies the Standards and address the issues of power and practice raised by the Standards.

The widely held and deeply rooted belief that poor and minority students, students with disabilities, and female students are inherently incapable of attaining high levels of mathematics achievement may be internalized by students, parents, community members, and educators, thus becoming a "self-fulfilling prophecy." For example, such beliefs often support the misconception that adults living in poverty lack motivation or intelligence and that their children have the same "inadequacies." These attitudes about socioeconomic status, racial minorities, gender differences, and labeling must be recognized and reexamined to promote equity and excellence (Century, 1994).

Educators will need time for ongoing, effective professional development as they learn new curriculum, instruction, and assessment strategies. Indeed, all members of the school community will need to reexamine their beliefs, expectations, and cultural sensitivities; develop a shared vision of equity and excellence in mathematics education; and determine their new roles and responsibilities in supporting equitable mathematics education for all students.

Successful reform also will require creating a supportive climate for implementation, integrating community services, engaging families and communities, and developing guidelines for effective collaborative planning.


Equity 2000

The Algebra Project

The Quasar Project

Reaching All Students With Mathematics


Midwest Consortium for Mathematics and Science Education
North Central Regional Educational Laboratory
1120 Diehl Road, Suite 200
Naperville, IL 60563-1486
(630) 649-6500, fax (630)649-7600

National Center for Research in Mathematical Sciences Education
University of Wisconsin at Madison
Wisconsin Center for Educational Research
1025 West Johnson Street
Madison, WI 53706

Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education
Sue Burke The Ohio State University
1929 Kenny Road
Columbus, OH 43210-1079
614-292-7784, Fax 614-292-2066
Internet e-mail:
World Wide Web:

National Science Foundation
4201 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, VA 22230

American Association for the Advancement of Science
1333 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20005

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
1906 Association Drive
Reston, VA 22091-1593
phone: 703-620-9840
fax: 703-476-2970

Maryland State Department of Education
200 West Baltimore Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
Dr. Linda Rosen

National Eisenhower Mathematics and Science Education Program
U.S. Department of Education

Charles Stalford, Director
555 New Jersey Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20208-5524
Phone: (202) 219-2126
Fax: (202) 219-2106

AEL Region Eisenhower Math/Science Consortium
Pam Buckley, Director
P.O. Box 1348
Charleston, West Virginia 25325
Phone: (304) 347-0400
Fax: (304) 347-0487

FWL Regionspecial strategies Far West Regional Consortium for Science and Mathematics
Art Sussman, Director
730 Harrison Street
San Francisco, California 94107
Phone: (415) 241-2730
Fax: (415) 241-2746

McREL Region
High Plains Consortium for Mathematics and Science

John Sutton, Director
2550 S Parker Road, Suite 500
Aurora, Colorado 80014
Phone: (303) 337-0990
Fax: (303) 337-3005

NWREL Region
Northhwest Consortium for Mathematics and Science Teaching

Rob Larson, Director
101 S.W. Main Street, Suite 500
Portland, Oregon 97204
Phone: (503) 275-9594
Fax: (503) 275-9489

PREL Region
Pacific Region Mathematics/Science Consortium

Rick Davis, Director
828 Fort Street Mall, Suite 500
Honolulu, Hawaii 96813
Phone: (808) 532-1900
Fax: (808) 532-1922

RBS Region
Mid-Atlantic Regional Consortium for Mathematics and Science Education
Keith Kershner, Director
444 N. Third Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19123
Phone: (215) 574-9300
Fax: (215) 574-0133

SEDL Region
Southwest Consortium for the Improvement of Mathematics and Science Teaching
Wes Hoover, Director
211 E. Seventh Street
Austin, Texas 78701
Phone: (512) 476-6861
Fax: (512) 476-2286

SERVE Region
SouthEastern Regional Vision for Education (SERVE)

Francena D. Cummings, Equity Committee Chair, N2ERC2
345 South Magnolia Drive, Suite D-23
Tallahassee, FL 32301-2950
Phone: 904-922-2300
Fax 904-922-2286
Internet gopher:

Regional Alliance for Mathematics and Science Education Reform
Bob McLaughlin, Co-Director
235 Main Street
Montpelier, Vermont 05602
Phone: (802) 223-0463
Fax: (802) 229-2031
Eileen Ferrance, Co-Director
300 Brickstone Square, Suite 900
Andover, Massachusetts 01810
Phone: (508) 470--0098
Fax: (508) 475-9220

Mathematical Sciences Education Board
National Academy of Sciences

2101 Constitution Avenue, N.W., Harris 476
Washington, DC 20418
Web server:

Consortium for Educational Equity
Rutgers University
Livingston Campus 4090
New Brunswick, NJ 08903
Contact: Marylin A. Hulme
Phone: (908) 445-2071
Fax: (908) 445-0027

Programs for Educational Opportunity
Ted Wilson, Editor and Research Associate
1005 School of Education
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
phone: 313-763-9910
fax: 313 763-2137

Mid-Atlantic Center for Race Equity
5454 Wisconsin Avenue, Suite 1500
Chevy Chase, MD 20815

National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics
P.O. Box 10667
Golden, CO 80401
FAX: 303-274-5932

Quality Education for Minorities Network
1818 North Street, N.W., Suite 350
Washington, DC 20036
Fax 202-659-9528

Women's Educational Equity Act (WEEA) Publishing Center
Education Development Center, Inc.
55 Chapel Street
Newton, MA 02158-1060
Phone: 800-225-3088 or 617-969-7100
Fax: 617-332-4318


This Critical Issue summary was researched and written by Claudette Rasmussen, North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, Oak Brook, Illinois.

Date posted: 1995
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