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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 this Roundtable.

Principals Count

"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."

To add your voice to this discussion, e-mail comments, letters, and op-ed articles to: extend@stolaf.edu or click here if your Web browser is set up for e-mail.

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Last Update: 06/26/96