NSF Grant to Advance Racial Justice in Elementary Education Mathematics

by Rebekah Goode
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A child is turned around in their seat smiling at the camera. They have dark curly hair, dark skin, and are wearing a yellow t-shirt. They appear to be sitting in a classroom.

Black and Latinx parents in urban schools will lead change and advance racial justice in their children’s elementary mathematics classes with the help of a National Science Foundation-funded research project conducted by Frances Harper, assistant professor of STEM and Mathematics Education in the Department of Theory and Practice in Teacher Education.

Harper, who was recently awarded a $697,306 CAREER grant for this project, explains, “Mathematics education research tells us a lot about how to support Black and Latinx children to become confident and capable learners and doers of mathematics. Unfortunately, the politics at play in urban schools and racial stereotypes about mathematics ability make it so that few Black and Latinx children ever have an opportunity to engage with mathematics through those research-based practices.”

Through critical, community-engaged scholarship and in collaboration with ten Black and Latinx families, ten teachers, and two community organizations, the research team will co-design and co-study two educational programs aimed at advancing racial justice in elementary mathematics.

While Black and Latinx families often persist in supporting their individual children, a shift toward collective organizing among parents as change agents in school mathematics is necessary for meeting the needs of every student. This project explores possibilities for localized change lead by parents. By making explicit how to foster and increase Black and Latinx parents’ engagement in solidarity with community organizations and teachers, this project could provide a model for other communities and schools seeking to advance racial justice in mathematics education.

“I’ve had an opportunity to work with some amazing teachers who are dedicated to making mathematics education more equitable in their classrooms, but the impact of teachers is limited,” said Harper. “I am very excited to work with another group of stakeholders who are passionate about supporting Black and Latinx children in elementary mathematics – the children’s parents and caregivers! Parents and caregivers are uniquely positioned to advocate for their children’s best interests and to demand school-wide reforms to encourage research-based practices.”

Here is how the project will work: The first program will seek to build parents’ capacity to catalyze change across classrooms and schools within their local communities; and the second program will provide teacher professional development that supports elementary teachers of mathematics to learn with and from Black and Latinx families. A mixed methods research design that utilizes narrative inquiry and social network analysis will facilitate refinement of the educational program models by addressing two research objectives: (1) to understand the lived experiences of Black and Latinx parents as they build capacity to lead change and (2) to study the development, nature, and impact of parent-teacher-community partnerships that promote a shared vision for racial justice in mathematics.

“By the end of the project,” explains Harper, “the goal is to bring together a dedicated group of teachers, parents and caregivers, and community partners who can lead change in the mathematics education of Black and Latinx children.”

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