Curriculum and Equity

A Question of Equity: Catalyzing Culturally Responsive Mathematics Teaching


When looking for an answer to a big issue, you need to first craft a good question.

For the Maier Math Foundation, that question is: “What is the role of curricular materials in creating and supporting culturally responsive elementary mathematics learning environments?”

“It’s a big question,” says Corey Drake, Senior Director for Professional Learning at the Math Learning Center. “And there are some key tensions that sit in the middle of it. One [tension] is that published, large-scale, curriculum materials are not written for any particular group of students, any particular community, or any particular school. To be equitable, you need to be responsive to your particular students and their lived experiences. So how do you do that with materials that were written at a large scale and for a general audience?” 

An initiative was formed, funded by the Maier Math Foundation—The Curriculum and Equity Project. This brought together developers, educators, and scholars to investigate the key questions related to the role of curriculum materials in supporting culturally responsive elementary mathematics learning environments. 

Academics Assemble!

A small team of Math Learning Center staff—as well as experts in the field who are actively working on culturally responsive approaches—were brought together in late spring 2022 to dissect the initiative's overarching question.

If we think expansively about curriculum, if we think expansively about culture and culturally responsive teaching and learning, what could that look like? What do students experience in a culturally responsive classroom? And then we mapped out, what are all the other questions we might need to answer to be able to answer that central question?

Working Toward Transformative Change 

After this initial session, team participants spent the next few months digging into these questions. Some designed new materials, some designed teacher planning tools, while others did literature reviews. 

The team reconvened in late fall of 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia to share out what they had learned and accomplished, and to forge a path forward. 

“One of the takeaways was that curriculum materials sit in a system, they don’t exist in a vacuum,” Corey explains. “Curriculum alone cannot create a culturally responsive classroom. It’s always teachers, students, and materials interacting together. What kind of support would teachers need to enact that curriculum in a responsive way?” 

The team mapped out that system and the factors in play while pushing on what curriculum even means in this era: it needn’t be a static published book that only changes every seven years, but a dynamic and interactive set of materials that teachers interact with based on their students and their unique experiences. 

The results of the team’s work will be shared not only through academic output such as research papers, but also through more practitioner-oriented products including design prototypes and broadly accessible presentations, providing additional clarity and direction for the field. These learnings will also inform Math Learning Center’s materials and professional learning going forward. Says Corey: “We will continue to explore designs, materials, and teacher support strategies so that we can create inclusive, powerful, and humanizing math experiences for all students.”