Solving a System of Inequalities: Decolonizing and Rehumanizing Mathematics in Somerville Public Schools
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CitationIwasaki, Kentaro. 2021. Solving a System of Inequalities: Decolonizing and Rehumanizing Mathematics in Somerville Public Schools. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University Graduate School of Education.
AbstractThis capstone focuses on the efforts of students, teachers, and leaders in Somerville Public Schools as they closely examined the district’s practices, structures, and policies related to math over the course of a school year in order to move towards more equitable experiences and outcomes for students. Somerville Public Schools is in Massachusetts and serves approximately 5,000 students with around 38% identifying as White, 42% as Latinx, 9% as Black, 7% as Asian, and 4% as Other.
The various components of mathematics in this district, such as course offerings, placement guidelines, scope and sequence, curriculum choices, and Honors designation, are intertwined in a complex manner, resulting in challenges when changing even one aspect of the district’s system around math. This was compounded during the COVID-19 pandemic year. Despite the contextual challenges, I had the privilege of working with students, teachers, and leaders from Somerville to dismantle barriers found in placement guidelines as well as to create more opportunities for students through changing existing structures such as Honors designations and curricular offerings in math. I fostered a dynamic relationship based on mutual dependency between a working group of district leaders and one involving teachers that relied on student voice and input, which proved critical in securing engagement and participation from stakeholders at all levels of the system needed to move recommendations and decisions forward. I worked to develop clear channels of communication between the K-8 and High School segments of the district, to support collaboration between the math and EL departments in the district, to enhance the existing partnerships with community-based organizations and a neighboring district, and to create learning opportunities for teachers and leaders in order to envision possibilities for changes in mathematics at the district level. I partnered with district leaders and teachers to embed student voice into the design process of improvement around mathematics, which also proved crucial.
Making substantive changes to long-established practices, structures, or policies in district systems related to math requires a willingness of leaders and teachers to engage in self-reflection, examination of data, and critical conversations that surface bias. To this end, I offer relevant research and models as well as my own reflections and learnings on what it takes to move mathematics within a district away from a stance of “colonization” towards one that embodies more of a vision of “rehumanization.”
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37370259
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