The Struggle to Mend Divides: NCTM Annual Meeting Day 3 and ASSM Annual Meeting Day 1

Today I spent the morning at the NCTM Annual Meeting and then took a detour to check out the National Archives before making my way to Pentagon City for the start of the ASSM Annual Meeting.

Rachel Lambert
I started at 8:00 with Rachel Lambert of the University of California Santa Barbara. This talk shared ideas with her research plenary, but she had a co-presenter, Erica Mason, from the University of Illinois, and the two of them had a full hour to make their case. The overall message is that we (as regular classroom educators, or as systems of educators) too often "other" special education students and prescribe different kinds of instruction, spaces, and expectations for "those kids." Furthermore, some of the reasons we do this are rooted in research, or more specifically, divides in our research communities.

Erica Mason
Mathematics education rarely takes much of an interest in disabled students, but generally, as a field, math ed relies on a broad selection of theories and methods and no one really dominates over the others. Meanwhile, in special education, it's relatively rare to see studies focused on the learning of math, and as a field, special ed researchers use a more limited set of theories and methods. Most are focused on information processing or behaviorist theories and the methodology is almost all quantitative. So not only are we "othering" special education students, we have divides in our academic communities that is creating some "othering" there, too. This has led to some recent fights and misrepresentations of each others' positions and thinking. Rachel offered a critique in this session, specifically focused on some claims made by a group of special education researchers who are using some citations rather recklessly to misrepresent constructivism and teaching that promotes productive struggle.

I then went off to the NCTM Business Meeting. This is maybe my most policy wonkish session choice I make each year, but I like getting an update about the overall health of the Council and to get some insights about things on the horizon. It was another year of NCTM running a deficit budget, and it sounded like a substantial portion of that was due to lower-than-expected attendance at last year's Annual Meeting. (This year's registration figures are much better but still below pre-COVID totals.) NCTM also hired an external diversity consultant to help evaluate and support the Council, and they are discussing affinity groups or a similar structure for members to help increase the sense of belonging people have as members. The last bit of big news concerned the conference next July being co-organized by NCTM and the National Council of Teachers of English. It will be K-5 only, and the program committee intends to offer math-focused, literacy-focused, and math+literacy-focused sessions. It will be held at a hotel with limited space, so something more modest than an Annual Meeting, but it is something they'd like to continue annually.

Julia Aguirre and Karen Mayfield-Ingram
I made my last NCTM session the Iris M. Carl Equity Address, this year given by Julia Aguirre of the University of Washington, Tacoma, and Karen Mayfield-Ingram of the Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California Berkeley. I think this is the first time I've seen this address given by a pair of presenters and it was a wise choice to put two close colleagues together in an almost mini-panel format. Their session focused mostly on structural barriers to equitable math education. Perhaps the dominant barrier continues to be tracking practices. Even at the earliest ages, students are tracked by perceived ability and the effect is a sort of educational apartheid, and anyone who observes these classes and usually tell right away which class is for the "high" kids (where students are often white) and the "low" kids (where students are Black and Brown). So long as our course placements are predictable by demographic factors, we are maintaining inequitable systems and we all know it. The trick is finding the courage and a shared commitment to stop.

At noon, I walked south to the National Archives. Big parts of it were closed for renovations, which was a disappointment, but it's still amazing to think about how I was able to go from my everyday life thinking about inequity in math ed to, about 20 minutes later, standing in front of an original copy of the Magna Carta, which represents a struggle against inequity from another place and another era. It's all part of the same long struggle. I got to see the Declaration, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, all of which are quite faded and encased in a lot of protective glass and dim lighting, but ultimately the visit is worth it not because of the items but what they represent.

I caught a train to Pentagon City where the ASSM Annual Meeting is being held. The Friday program was extra light: A one-hour meeting for PAEMST state coordinators, a brief welcome, and then a social gathering. I stepped out early as this kind of social stuff is not for me, and besides, some of us have blog posts to write!