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Unfulfilled hopes in education for equity: redesigning the mathematics curriculum in a US high school

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Mathematics education aimed at empowering students for economic and democratic participation must address two critical issues: the long-standing function of mathematics as a gatekeeper, and the complicated nature of designing and implementing systematic reform at the school department level. The study reported here examines a curricular redesign implemented by teachers in one US high school department. The department was redesigning its curriculum to remedy high failure rates in targeted courses disproportionately populated by students of colour. Using a case-study methodology, this study examines the process of curricular redesign and its influence on these students' access to more advanced mathematics courses. It describes redesigned courses and department characteristics that aided or challenged the redesign process, and discusses the significance of the identified challenges in constructing placement policies that did little to increase students' likelihood of taking additional, and more advanced- level, mathematics courses. The analysis revealed a department that, despite its intentions, implemented a curriculum design which perpetuated inequities. This study discusses the teachers' expectations of their students and perspectives about the nature of mathematics as a partial explanation for the department's failure. The resigned curriculum failed to promote mathematics course-taking because it created more defined tracks with less rigorous courses for students in low-level courses.
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Keywords: civil rights; democracy; equity (educational opportunities); mathematics curriculum; under-represented students

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Mathematics, Jackson State University, Jackson, Mississippi, USA

Publication date: 2010-02-01

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