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New Report Offers Playbook for Redesigning College Math Pathways to Increase Racial Equity, Rigor, and Relevance

BERKELEY, CALIF.—Mathematics education has been a distinct source of inequity, often serving as a gatekeeper to college admissions and academic majors for traditionally marginalized students, especially Black and Latinx students. As numerous state postsecondary systems are redesigning college mathematics, including expanding options beyond the traditional path through Calculus, a new report homes in on ways to build rigorous, relevant math sequences that enhance education equity.

Just Equations’ new report, Solving For Equity: Design and Implementation of New Postsecondary Math Pathways identifies four strategies for states, colleges, and universities to incorporate into their math reforms. These strategies include:

  • Using inclusive definitions of rigor and relevance in the design of math pathways, which can include calculus, statistics, data science, or discrete math.
  • Eliminating remedial math courses in favor of just-in-time supports such as corequisite courses.
  • Promoting positive math classroom experiences by making course content relevant to students’ social contexts and intended area of study, while addressing faculty implicit bias. 
  • Actively recruiting and providing support for students traditionally underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, education, and mathematics) fields, to ensure that those options are truly open to them. 

“A new, inclusive definition of rigor exposes all students to rich, engaging math content aligned with their aspirations, and rejects the traditional assumption that only some people can do math,” said Pamela Burdman, executive director of Just Equations. “Redesigning college math pathways can be a solution to educational inequity, but only when colleges and states take leadership in making the changes we highlight in this report.” 

Solving For Equity synthesizes emerging research as well as interviews with leading experts on postsecondary mathematics pathways, including researchers and practitioners who work directly with students. It also includes clear criteria for ensuring both rigor and equity in math pathway design. 

To institutionalize equity-focused practices, the report stresses the importance of faculty professional development, shared ownership of math courses, and collaboration with other disciplines. 

“Classrooms play a pivotal role in the success of our students, but time and again we see that faculty professional development and examination of classroom-level data are excluded from college equity initiatives,” said Mina Dadgar, founder of Education Equity Solutions and lead author of the report. Math courses should equip students with the critical thinking skills needed for their major, future career, and global citizenship. Getting there takes a lot of collaboration across departments and institutions, as well as with employers. States can and should play a role in facilitating those conversations.”

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