Equity in Mathematics Education Leadership Institute
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What was EMELI?

EMELI (The Equity in Mathematics Education Institute) was funded by the National Science Foundation from 1995 to 2001. Although the project funding has ended, some of the activities of EMELI are going on under the supervision of the National Coalition for Equity in Education (click on tab above for NCEE). This website will give you some idea of what the project was about.

The goal of the Equity in Mathematics Education Leadership Institute (EMELI) was:
  • to increase the ability of mathematics education reform leaders to effectively and productively address equity, in order that

  • teachers and schools will change practices that impede the learning of students from groups underrepresented in mathematics

Why an Equity in Mathematics Education Leadership Institute?

Presently, an infrastructure does not exist for educators to support addressing equity in mathematics education in ways that produce significant change in the mathematics experience of students from underrepresented groups.

Over the past decade, methods that help teachers and schools change the mathematics content and pedagogy have become institutionalized in professional development. Reform of assessment methods receives considerable resources. Attempts to help educators change institutionalized bias or individual teaching practices that are inequitable, however, are more rare. At professional meetings there are usually few sessions that address how race, gender, class, or other forms of bias affect the teaching and learning of mathematics. Likewise, few sessions consider cultural or linguistic issues in mathematics education.

EMELI will not supply all the answers related to equity in mathematics education. Our goals are to help advance the dialogue and to support leadership in making progress. We believe that if not meaningfully and productively addressed by the mathematics education reform movement, in 15 years there will be little to show for all our hard work.

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The Workshops

Participants in the Equity in Mathematics Education Leadership Institute attended a series of workshops over a 20-month period. All participants came with a team from their school, district, or region. The workshops provided a relaxed environment for educators to reflect deeply on and discuss issues, policies, and strategies; tp plan future actions; and to be supported in their leadership. Activities at a workshop include:

Hands-on Math Activities engaged participants in doing mathematics with current curricula—including ethnomathematics. Each activity was followed by discussions about how this material met equity concerns (e.g., Is the activity accessible to all students? Will it engage the interest of underrepresented groups?), what kind of support teachers will need in order to use this material, and how raising teachers’ awareness of equity can be integrated into helping them learn how to use new curricula. Participants will be encouraged to adapt these activities in their work and report back on their results.

Topic groups gave participants the opportunity to discuss their interests and concerns in depth. Typical topics were: Bilingualism and Language Acquisition in Mathematics; Teacher Beliefs; Recruiting Teachers of Color into the Profession; Equity in Assessment; Constructivism and Equity; The Influence of Peer Culture on Mathematics Achievement; Tracking and Mathematics Reform; Outreach to Parents.

Personal Experience Panels provided insights on issues which the participants talked about and reflected on in smaller groups. For example, panels addressed: the challenge of diversity in the math classroom; how race, class, or gender bias affected you as a learner; what influenced your confidence in your ability to learn mathematics; how institutionalized racism affected us as students; what it is like taking leadership for equity; bilingual education and mathematics; tracking. Panelists were asked ahead of time if they were willing to be on a panel and given questions to think about. (Transcripts of selected personal experience panels can be read in Many Waters.)

Presentations by project staff provided perspectives on issues, workable methods, and effective strategies related to equity in mathematics education.

Discussion Groups provided the opportunity for participants to learn from the research literature and from each other.

Goal setting and planning sessions provided a structure for participants and teams to set goals, develop strategies, and make specific plans. 

Support Groups were used to deepen our understanding and exchange emotional support. Meeting regularly in support groups provided participants the opportunity to be listened to about their beliefs, successes and challenges, to strengthen collegial relationships, and to reflect on how their own mathematical learning experiences and their experiences with prejudice and discrimination affect them as educators. (Weissglass, 1997)

Journal writing provided additional opportunities for reflection. Participants will be asked to respond to specific prompts related to teaching, learning, and equity issues raised at the workshops and will do ‘free-writing’ as well.

The content of the workshops was based upon the accumulated research and our experience in two prior projects: Improving Mathematics Education in Diverse Classrooms [IMEDC] funded by the National Science Foundation and the Equity in Mathematics Education Project [EMEP] funded by the California Mathematics Project. Three interrelated areas are addressed: mathematics education, equity and leadership.

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Mathematics Education

We believe that mathematics learning is both social and cognitive (See Schoenfeld [1992] and references therein), that learners construct their own understanding, and that "affective issues play a central role in mathematics learning and instruction"( McLeod, 1992). The practices espoused in the three NCTM Standards documents will be discussed in relationship to the research and reform literature related to equity issues (for example, Apple, 1992; Bishop, 1988; Ernest, 1989; Mellin-Olsen, 1987; Tate, 1994).

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The equity component of this project addresses how the learning of children from groups not succeeding in mathematics is affected by classroom practices, teacher attitudes and expectations, the culture of the school, and the children’s family and peer culture. We also address how the professional development culture affects educators of color in taking leadership in mathematics education reform. Our work is based on twelve Perspectives on Equity (see page 12).

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EMELI supports leaders to address equity in math education in their own work. Participants increase their understanding of the relationships between equity and mathematics education, the process of educational change, and how institutionalized biases and low expectations affect the success of underrepresented groups in mathematics. We help leaders develop and implement strategies for change. They learn how to build unity while raising controversial issues and to listen better to people of different backgrounds than themselves. They are encouraged to seek out, identify, and nurture new leaders — especially from underrepresented groups. Participants are asked to examine their projects’ efforts with regard to issues being raised at the institute and in reports and the research. Our work in this area is informed by the research on school change and teacher leadership (for example, Fullan, 1991; Levine, 1989; Lieberman, 1988; Schifter & Fosnot, 1993; Wasley, 1991) and by our work in previous projects.

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Why did we use this approach?

Our work over the preceding six years led us to the conclusion that addressing issues of equity in mathematics education is extremely complex and arduous. In most professional development settings, it is not safe enough to address these issues meaningfully. We wanted to work with educators who will make a long-term commitment to working together to develop the trust and safety necessary to address these issues in depth.

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