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Designing for Equity by Thinking in and about Mathematics (DEbT-M)


In 2006, Gloria Ladson-Billings challenged us to think about the education debt that we owe children of color, as opposed to the achievement gap. Our project name-DEbT-M-honors this perspective.

Designing for Equity by Thinking in and about Mathematics (DEbT-M) is building a replicable professional learning model that addresses racially-based inequities in secondary (6th - 12th grade) mathematics education in the United States. This model is used in large and moderate sized school districts. Participants spend 2 years as a cohort building an understanding of the opportunity gaps and the inequitable teaching practices in their classrooms and schools and being empowered to become change agents to disrupt these inequitable practices.

Funded by the National Science Foundation Math-Science Program, DEbT-M is a partnership among Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC), Pittsburgh Public Schools, Iowa State University and University of Pittsburgh Center for Urban Education, with Duquesne University serving as external evaluator. Together, we work with educators to disrupt elements of the current educational system that work to impede access to learning opportunities for students of color and improve mathematics teaching and learning at the classroom, school and district levels in ways that provide students of color with more equitable opportunities in mathematics and disrupt counterproductive narratives for all students and educators. The primary components of the professional learning experiences, all of which support community building, include:

  • Developing participants’ knowledge of and familiarity with mathematical habits of mind and/or standards for mathematical practice by engaging them in a mathematics immersion experience where they are asked to work with and on mathematical ideas in ways that are quite new to them as learners and doers of mathematics;
  • Daily discussion of their immersion experience-their aesthetic, emotional, and social reactions-and how their own identity and beliefs impact the experience they have, the affordances of and obstacles to replicating this process in the classroom, what it takes to make this change, and other similar ideas. We also dig into the impact of more common experiences on the learner, particularly learners of color, and how many of the common structures and practices we employ are actually holdover from a system of education that was meant to be inequitable. This daily discussion is called Mathequity; we have found it to be essential to building a shared understanding and comfort level required to challenge status quo in classroom, school and district practice.
  • Activities and discussion focused on building understanding of the current inequities in the US educational system and their connection to the hidden history of the system that was designed to offer privileges to the dominant culture.
  • Reflecting on individual racial and mathematical identities to understand their impact on learning and teaching as well as understanding the necessity of learning about and valuing the racial and mathematical identities of students in the classroom.
  • Individually seeing and studying the racially-based inequities in their own classrooms and schools, acknowledging their role in the perpetuation of these inequitable practices and taking action to intentionally disrupt those practices.

To work toward these goals, participants come to 3 weeks of full-day learning experiences during the summer. These experiences comprise the first four bullets above. The final bullet is introduced in the summer but carried out through school-year application and reflection. In particular, in the first year, cohort members focus extensively on studying their own classrooms and schools in order to concretely identify and collect evidence around inequities that are present. In the second year, participants develop projects and engage in cycles of disrupting inequities, studying and getting feedback on the impact, and revising the disruption as necessary.

To close, we leave you with one more of our guiding quotations, spoken by Ella Baker in 1969:
In order for us as poor and oppressed people to become part of a society that is meaningful, the system under which we now exist has to be radically changed. This means that we are going to have to learn to think in radical terms. I use the term radical in its original meaning--getting down to and understanding the root cause. It means facing a system that does not lend itself to your needs and devising means by which you change that system.

For more information, please visit our website or contact a member of our Core Team: