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Branching Out: Designing High School Math Pathways for Equity

In Just Equations’ latest report, Branching Out: Designing High School Math Pathways for Equity, math educators Phil Daro and Harold Asturias outline a new vision for high school mathematics: advanced math pathways that align with students’ areas of interest. 
Taking a fresh look at traditional high school math sequences, the authors argue that they filter too many students out of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) opportunities while simultaneously erecting irrelevant math hurdles for students with other interests. The burdens of the mismatch, including placement into dead-end high school and college remedial courses, fall heaviest on students of color and low-income students. 
Equity requires new, rigorous offerings as alternatives to existing STEM-oriented courses. The authors call these “BRANCH” courses. 
“We need to eliminate barriers to opportunity based on income, race, ethnicity, gender, and any other factors beyond the control of the student, to move from a deficit model to an asset-based narrative,” they note. “It is time to design high-quality alternatives that work for many more students, preparing them for a postsecondary world that branches into exciting careers, such as journalism, politics, education, marketing, law, and entertainment.”
In outlining the need for these pathways, the authors note that they must be designed to articulate with postsecondary policies —and that, in some cases, postsecondary admissions and readiness policies need to be revised to support the move to multiple math pathways in college. 
Also important, note Daro and Asturias, is the relevance of pathway content to students’ interests as well as flexibility for students to switch pathways if those interests change. Pathway design must also support educators to address the role of bias and privilege in traditional school structures and dislodge harmful preconceptions about who can and cannot do math. The authors also underscore the need for intentional strategies to recruit students to pathways in equitable ways, and to provide support that addresses uneven prior opportunities and vulnerable math identities.
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