Equity and Access: Principals Count
"Equity and Access in Mathematics Education"
was the subject of an EXTEND Roundtable held on May 16, 1996 at the
Charles A. Dana Center for Mathematics and Science Education at the
University of Texas at Austin. This Roundtable provided a forum for
teachers, administrators, employers, educational researchers, and
university faculty to discuss equity and access in mathematics education
in the context of rapidly changing state and local policy. This is the
third in a series of reports summarizing sentiments that emerged from
"The problems that our students are having are not problems with the
students, but problems with the system. To change mathematics education,
we need to change the system to educate all students at the highest
quality." So began a second strand of discussion at the Roundtable.
Curriculum and pedagogy alone do not provide sufficient "purchase" to
remedy the "savage inequities" of the present system.
To bring about change it takes someone, usually the principal, to
challenge the status quo. Without leadership from the principal, change
can not be sustained: the system is designed to produce the results we are
getting. While the challenge of equity requires change in all parts of
the educational system, schools set the tone for expectations and
outcomes. So in matters of equity, principals really do count.
Several participants--ranging from elementary school teachers to
university professors--cited examples of areas that require the strong
support of committed principals:
Some schools even in high poverty areas produce students who consistently
beat national averages. Some schools have had great success with
intensive programs designed to prevent failure--e.g., double-time algebra
for at-risk students. Such schools prove that widespread failure is not a
necessary condition of schooling, but the consequence of restrained or
unimaginative leadership. Strong leaders are those who say "No" to
standard practices. They work, instead, to develop a systemic capacity
for change. As one long-time observer of school sociology observed,
principals in successful schools "empower those teachers who are
culturally committed to serve all children."
- "Our education system is modeled on an antiquated structure that wastes
resources. We need to find ways to make uses of all our resources."
- "In order that all students have access to technology and other
resources that only some have in their homes, we need to restructure the
school day to provide greater access for those who need it."
- "Parents need to be actively involved in supporting their children's
education. Schools need to focus much more energy on finding ways to get
- "In most schools teachers earn their way to the top and then hide out
there for the next thirty years. Principals let that happen, since they
don't want to challenge the system."
- "Teachers need on-going professional development, not just a four-day
workshop. Imaginative principals will find ways to provide staff
development time throughout the year."
- "Only principals can assign the best teachers to the most needy
students. This is the best way to turn those kids around--it can make a
significant difference in the lives of those students."
To add your voice to this discussion, e-mail comments, letters, and op-ed
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Last Update: 06/26/96