Skip to content

The Mathematics of Opportunity: Rethinking the Role of Math in Educational Equity

Beginning in kindergarten and continuing into college, mathematics is not just an academic subject: It’s a key mechanism in the distribution of  opportunity. Solid quantitative reasoning skills are an important underpinning for achievement in school, in a profession, and in many aspects of life. Whether studying physics, managing inventory, buying a car, reading polls, or following sports scores, a facility in mathematics is essential.

But, perhaps because it plays such a primary role, math can also be wielded in ways that arbitrarily close doors to educational advancement. Even
as math expectations can serve as a foundation for academic success by supporting quantitative literacy, they can also operate as a filter that literally stops many students in their educational tracks. While such claims may be made of educational requirements generally, math is unrivaled in its use as a marker of intelligence that can limit access to future opportunity.
This role creates an imperative for the field of mathematics—all who teach it, test it, train teachers, and write textbooks about it—as well as for education leaders who determine math-related policies: They must ensure fairness and equity in the pursuit of achievement. But doing so is complicated by the fact that responsibility is spread across K-12 and postsecondary institutions and diffused among instructors, administrators, and policy leaders, all whose efforts are needed to effect change.