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Those Closest to Reform Must Be Included in its Creation and Implementation

August 18, 2021|By Diana Ceja

The Launch Years Initiative hosted a policy forum in 2021 on how state, K–12, and postsecondary leaders can design and implement policies consistent with the recommendations proposed in the Launch Years report. The forum provided a powerful case for the critical role that state and postsecondary policy leaders—and community voices representing the perspectives of Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI), and other minoritized communities—must play to ensure that mathematics is seen as a vehicle for achieving greater educational equity, rather than as a barrier to it.

This is part of a blog series inspired by that forum. 

“The Launch Years vision is to… ensure that each student has equal access to, and successfully engages in… mathematics pathways that are well articulated from high school to and through postsecondary education and careers, that are personally and socially relevant, and that enable students to move across pathways as their interests and aspirations evolve.”

This powerful statement from the Launch Years report calls for reimagining and modernizing mathematics education to adjust and respond to the demands of an increasingly technological and data-driven society.

Reimagining and modernizing mathematics education as envisioned by Launch Years is a big ask of our K–12 and postsecondary institutions. It will not be the mathematics education that I experienced in my education. It's not the mathematics education that students are experiencing right now, but it’s what they need for their futures.

Who is missing from the design and implementation of reforms? 

To ensure math is coherent and relevant to the interests and aspirations of today’s students, it will be essential to include different perspectives in the design of reforms. As information from policy reforms trickle down and get enacted at different levels of the system, it will be important to meaningfully collaborate with those situated at the ground level. 

Current structures are deeply complex, and moving reform efforts forward will require that all the gears in the system work seamlessly together. To extend the metaphor, let’s say some of those “gears” are people. Most of the people in the system are not from universities, community colleges, and departments of education; they are students, communities, families, members of teacher unions, parent advocates, and advocates for various disenfranchised, marginalized groups of students. And right now, those “gears” are not being included in meaningful ways in most major reform efforts. When a machine is missing crucial gears, it cannot succeed.

It is imperative, then, that we include everyone in the design and implementation of reforms if we are going to change the societal mindset about mathematics education. We need to ensure that everyone – at all levels – embraces a new vision for mathematics so that our students can experience their mathematics education in a new way.

Policymakers are different from the on-the-ground influencers

We often talk about how policy reforms need to be consistently communicated to educators, but it is also important to recognize that information about reforms is not getting to those of us at the ground-level who are in relationship with students, parents, and leaders in our communities.  

One reason the information is not reaching us is that policymakers, while very capable, are not necessarily the influencers who are going to inspire grassroots change. When you bring all the stakeholders into a collaborative, the influencers begin to bubble up, and you are able to identify the people who can actually get traction with the parents, students, and others in the community you want to “buy-in to the reforms,” or, better said, partner with you to create reform.

Group dynamics vary from collaborative to collaborative, but shared ownership among all involved is very important to the success of any collaborative. 

When you bring teachers, students, community members, and parents together, and they all understand the purpose and intent of reforms, they can help you identify and problem-solve barriers to implementation. They can also lead their fellow community members to accept changes and participate in the transformation.  

I worked in a high school where the bilingual resource teacher responsible for coordinating state and federal programs was instrumental to efforts to encourage parents to partner with educators to define high-quality instructional practices. This bilingual resource teacher engaged parents in the state standards for English Language Arts and English Language Development. This teacher was the on-the-ground influencer we needed.

The parents began to understand what learning experiences they could expect and what they wanted for their children. As they learned more and felt that their ideas mattered, they began to engage in more meaningful ways. These parents participated in training to do classroom walkthroughs to look for evidence of student engagement. The parents defined what high-quality student engagement meant. It was empowering for parents, and it had a positive impact on school culture.

Establish partnerships with equity in mind 

We sometimes forget about the ground-level workers, the communities they serve, and how important they are to the change that needs to occur. One way to ensure diverse perspectives are heard is to partner with organizations that share common ideals and values around equity. 

For example, for those in California, building partnerships with the California Mathematics Council—whose membership consists of classroom teachers, math teacher educators, union representatives, and faculty from community colleges and universities—means getting access to all those diverse perspectives and voices. These partnerships with math-focused—and non-math-focused—organizations widens the reach and allows for broader and multidirectional communications.  

Connecting community stakeholders to reform efforts is essential if we are going to achieve the change we need. Don't forget about teachers and the communities they serve.

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About the Author

Diana Ceja

Diana Ceja is a mathematics educator with more than 24 years of experience in the field. She is currently Administrator, Riverside County Office of Education Instructional Services. She served as president of TODOS: Mathematics for ALL an equity-based international professional organization affiliated with the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM).