There’s a Place at the Math Table for Every Student

Is there anything more nerve wracking than walking into a crowded lunchroom and finding your place at a table? As the mom of two middle schoolers who’ve just returned to eating in “normal” cafeterias for the first time since COVID, I’m hearing a lot about that topic these days. Bring lunch or buy? Choose seats with familiar friends or head to assigned positions among new faces? Eat fast to get a jump on homework or take as much social time as possible?

The advice I give my kids is pretty simple: there’s no one “right” way to handle a middle school lunch. It’s about what’s right for you (and being kind). 

The same is true for the topic of math recovery following the disruptions of the pandemic. We’ve been hearing a lot about this issue since state and national achievement data have shown significant dips, especially in math. This is not the time to rehash old debates about which approaches to math are “right” – but rather to meet students where they are with a message that math is for everyone.

I’ve been encouraged by recent opinion pieces by experts I respect that echo these sentiments. Paolo DeMaria, head of the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), reminds us to “find the common ground – and there is a lot of it in the mathematics space.” And academics Pedro Noguera and Morgan Polikoff point to the impact those old debates about the “right” math instruction can have on those who are actually teaching our children: “While they fight over their broad visions for math instruction,” they write, “educators are left with the impossible task of figuring out on their own what to do in the classroom right now as schools reopen.” 

There are ways to make the task less impossible, and there are leaders speaking up about how this can be done:

  • Both of the opinion pieces mentioned above share a critical emphasis on equipping teachers with quality instructional materials and aligned professional learning, and list ideas like leveraging COVID relief funding to invest in these areas as well as proven supports like tutoring. 
  • Last week, I jumped into a Twitter chat hosted by NCTQ on math recovery, where experts from NASBE, TNTP, the Center on Reinventing Public Education, KnowledgeWorks, and the Collaborative for Student Success shared ideas ranging from teacher prep to classroom instruction to research and data partnerships that support student progress. Check it out by searching #MathRecovery on Twitter.
  • EdReports continues to offer leadership in guidance for meaningful instruction, most recently in a math practices “deep dive” that highlights specific Standards for Mathematical Practices, offers classroom examples, and connects the dots to quality instructional materials for math.

Bottom line: we need to make sure that every student can find a place at the math “table.”  It’s up to us adults to help each of them find the right learning tools, environment, and pacing that will address their individual learning needs and learning styles (and be kind).  The good news is that the field has the right ingredients to make it happen.

Jocelyn Pickford is an education policy and communications specialist focusing on understanding and promoting practitioner-informed public policy across the private, public and non-profit sectors as a Senior Affiliate with HCM Strategists. She began her career in education as a high school English teacher in a regular and special education inclusion classroom and is now a public school parent and recent member of her local district school board. Previously, Jocelyn led the design, launch and implementation of the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship at the U.S. Department of Education to integrate teachers into the national education policy dialogue. Jocelyn’s passion for her work was seeded during her own public school education and took root during her classroom teaching experience in Fairfax County, Virginia, where she led action research and presented instructional materials to a variety of audiences. Jocelyn earned her bachelor’s degree from Trinity College (CT), working as a professional writer and editor prior to becoming a teacher, and obtained her master’s in secondary education from the George Washington University. Jocelyn lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and two children.