When I was in the ninth grade I attended Cornerstone Academy, a private school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I was one of about ten black children in the whole school. At the time I never really gave it much thought about there not being more black children because I was accustomed to being around white people. That’s just the way it was.
As I prepared to write this blog post, a memory of a conversation between my Algebra I teacher and mother popped into my head. I can remember my teacher telling my mother that I would be behind the other students in the class because they had been at the school pretty much since elementary. She also said that it would be difficult for me but I don’t remember her ever offering to help me with the math content.
After that conversation with my mother, I remember working really hard to prove for the most part to myself that I could keep up. Much to my teacher’s surprise I did keep up with the class. I remember when I did well on assignments she would give me a smile. I wasn’t in love with school so my grade fluctuated between a B and C all school year even though I was a student athlete.
When I think about the conversation my mother had with my teacher, I wonder why my teacher never offered to give me extra help. She knew what I was up against. I guess she chose to let it be my battle alone.
Even though I had the opportunity to attend a private school the playing field was never an even playing field. Not even a little bit.
Equality vs. Equal
In the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote that “the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place” in public education, calling segregated schools “inherently unequal,” and declaring that the plaintiffs in the Brown case were being “deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.”
While the Brown case integrated schools and sought to provide an equal public education for black students, what it did not do is ensure that black students had an equal opportunity to make the most of their lives and talents.
You see, providing an equal education for black wasn’t enough. Equality for black students should have been the goal. When the schools were integrated, students were at a disadvantage just like I was my first year at Cornerstone Academy. Also like me the school system did provide access to the same instruction but didn’t level the playing field for black students.
Black and brown students are underrepresented in the STEM fields. This may not mean much to you if you’re an elementary teacher. It means a lot when you begin to look at a student’s earning potential, because degree holders in science and engineering fields remain predominantly white and male.
This divide doesn’t begin in high school, it begins right there in your classroom. When teachers refuse to provide math intervention support for Tier 2 and 3 students, the same students who pass continue to pass and the students who fail continue to fail. Schools that don’t have a strong Response to Intervention system experience a pattern of failure that will continue well into the students’ high school years.
Changing the Narrative
Math teachers everywhere have the ability to change the narrative for so many black and brown students. Just like my ninth grade Algebra I teacher knew that I was going to struggle with the content because I lacked certain skills. She knew this but didn’t offer me any additional support to help me be successful.
You have the opportunity to change the narrative for the students who enter your classroom each year. Your math intervention provides students with an opportunity to master missing math concepts needed to complete grade level math content.
In most cases your math intervention will be your students’ math lifeline; without extra support your students will be subjected to education riddled with failure.
If you work in a school where many of your students are working below grade level, your students will need intervention. Unfortunately, it’s a non-negotiable. If you don’t have a clue where to begin, you can learn about providing extra math support for your students in my Math Intervention Academy.