Math Paves Path

The U.S. Department of Education succinctly stated in a 1997 white paper, “Mathematics equals opportunity” ( Students who take rigorous math and science courses in high school are far more likely to go to college than those who do not. Algebra I is widely recognized as a gatekeeper course. For students at risk of failure in this course, high school success and higher education options hang in the balance. Students who lack math literacy are poorly prepared, not only for state assessment tests and college entrance exams, but also for the demands of 21st century jobs and citizenship. So alarm bells go off when we realize that while average math scores for fourth and eighth graders are on the rise, significant achievement gaps in math persist for minority and low-income students.

Grounded in the conviction that all children deserve a quality education, IDRA is developing and testing practices in math education, and engaging administrators and teachers in making math more meaningful and accessible to all students.

A Snapshot of What IDRA is Doing

Conducting Research – In partnership with a school district in San Antonio, IDRA is evaluating how its Math Smart! institutes impact student achievement. IDRA has designed Math Smart! around scientifically-based research strategies, proven to improve math proficiency in a standards-based curricula (see Math Smart! institutes). The evaluation will test a broader application of these principles as they are implemented across a school setting.

Developing Leaders – Through IDRA’s ExCELS (Educators x Communities = English Language Learners = Success) project, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, high school math, science and social studies teachers are involved in an ongoing program to support academic success for English language learners. Recently, a core leadership team of ExCELS secondary teachers co-planned and presented on effective strategies for English language learner instruction at a districtwide institute for their peers, including accessing, interpreting and using student data for planning instruction; principles of second language acquisition; effective content-specific methods and approaches for effective English language learner instruction; application to content; and grade-specific classes.

Informing Policy – In collaboration with superintendents and district administrators, IDRA is assisting districts in adopting school policies that increase minority student enrollment in higher mathematics courses.

Engaging Communities – Through Math Smart!, a series of mathematics institutes funded by the U.S. Department of Education, IDRA is engaging secondary teachers, school administrators and families in building student math proficiency and making schools more math-friendly, for all students and, in particular, for linguistically-diverse and economically-disadvantaged students. To learn more about Math Smart! or to bring a Math Smart! institute to your district or school, see:

What You Can Do

Get informed. Education leaders will find articles, books and discussion groups on mathematics and equity at the National Coalition for Equity in Education (NCEE) web site and, in particular, may want to review, “Inequity in Mathematics Education: Questions for Educators,” an article by Julian Weissglass at A Spanish translation of this article is available online at

Through Helping Children Learn Mathematics, a book that describes five strands of mathematical proficiency, the major changes that need to be made in mathematics instruction, instructional materials, assessments, teacher education, and the broader educational system, readers will find recommendations for community members, parents, administrators and policymakers (Jeremy Kilpatrick and Jane Swafford, editors, Mathematics Learning Study Committee, National Research Council, available for purchase online at A suitcase-full of other math and equity resources can be found at these sites:

Get involved. For educators and parents, the EQUALS and FAMILY MATH programs at the Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California at Berkeley, provide workshops and curriculum materials in mathematics equity and online resources for fun math activities (see Following a link on this site, you will also find Háganlo Juntos – Problemas de matemáticas para grupos, grados 4-12 – a collection of more than 100 math problems for small groups (

Parents may also want to check out: “A Parent’s Guide to Helping Your Child with Today’s Math” (National Education Association). A short article is available online at:

PBS Teacher Source publishes Classroom Tips and Resources for Math Teachers at

If you are in Texas, the TAKS Math Student and Family Guides, a set of study guides published by the Texas Education Agency help students strengthen the TEKS-based skills taught in class and tested on the TAKS (

Get results. The power to transform math education and raise student math achievement is in all of our hands. Leaders, parents and educators can get results by taking action in their own classrooms and neighborhood public schools and joining networks and coalitions that advocate for excellent, inclusive math programming and policies.

The National Coalition for Equity in Education (NCEE) supports the achievement of equity in education (

The Benjamin Banneker Association is a national non-profit organization dedicated to mathematics education advocacy, establishing a presence for leadership, and professional development to support teachers in leveling the playing field for mathematics learning of the highest quality for African American students (

The Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) encourages Chicano/Latino and Native American students to pursue graduate education and obtain the advanced degrees necessary for science research, leadership and teaching careers at all levels (

The Minority Student Achievement Network is a national coalition of multiracial suburban school districts that study the disparity in achievement between White students and students of color through intensive research and to develop and implement ways to ensure high academic achievement of minority students (

Educators can organize Math Family Nights at their own schools with resources from The National Science Foundation. For resources on setting up a Math Night event in your neighborhood or school visit Family Math Night – A Success Story by Eva Kubinski is published at:

Comments and questions may be directed to IDRA via e-mail at

[©2005, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please fill out our information request and feedback form. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]