Integrating Research on Inclusive Mathematics Environments into Philanthropy, Practice, and Policy
In September, Student Experience Research Network released eleven papers developed by participants in the Inclusive Mathematics Environments Early Career Fellowship (IME ECF), as well as five guiding principles for creating inclusive mathematics environments that were distilled by our staff based on the research.
While these reports are illuminating on their own, they are not the end of the story. The IME ECF was designed to facilitate practice- and policy-responsive research on the experiences of students who are marginalized in mathematics settings, and what can be done to improve those settings. To this end, each fellow synthesized research, rather than conducting an individual study, so they could look across a body of scholarship to identify what we know and do not yet know about equitable environments in mathematics education. The IME ECF also brought together a cohort of researchers in the fields of education, mathematics, psychology, social work, and sociology, who communicated with each other throughout the process, so that each synthesis benefitted from a multidisciplinary lens.
Student Experience Research Network believes that this type of research – practically relevant, equity-centered, and interdisciplinary – is an important contributor to a just and equitable education system. We also know that few established feedback loops exist between research, practice, and policy, and that this type of research is often disincentivized in the academy. We see our role as bridging these gaps.
Our work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Just Equations demonstrates how, at this stage in its lifecycle, research from the IME ECF is informing new funding initiatives and reaching practice and policy audiences.
Staff from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which funded the IME ECF, engaged with fellows as they surfaced practical implications of the research to begin identifying ways in which the research could inform the foundation’s work. The lessons and understandings that emerged from the fellowship were incorporated into Balance the Equation, a recent funding opportunity through which the foundation is sponsoring solutions that can create more supportive Algebra I environments for Black, Latinx, and multilingual students and students experiencing poverty.
The foundation conducted primary research with students, teachers, and academic experts to develop five focus areas within Balance the Equation. Proposed solutions will 1) build out support systems, 2) improve relevance of Algebra content, 3) elevate understanding of mathematics language, 4) empower and strengthen teacher practices, and/or 5) develop new or better feedback mechanisms. In particular, findings from the IME ECF dovetailed what the foundation heard from students about the first focus area: building out support systems.
The foundation’s call for proposals drew on multiple takeaways from fellows’ research. These included a focus on creating systems that support educators in building relationships and community, developing critical consciousness, and a commitment to sharing power with students; promoting a more expansive view of mathematics among adults and students; and prioritizing meaningful collaboration, deep mathematical thinking, and exploration among students and adults. Awardees in this focus area will be carrying forward the principles that emerged from the IME ECF as part of their future work.
Just Equations, an organization focused on advancing more equitable pathways through K-12 and postsecondary mathematics, also found that the topics and insights from the IME ECF resonated with their mission. As our two organizations identified opportunities to work together around the output of the IME ECF, we landed on co-developing a session at Just Equations’ Mathematics of Opportunity conference, featuring remarks from Dana Miller-Cotto, Neil Lewis, Jr., and Nicole Williams Beechum, three researchers who participated in the IME ECF. They were joined by Celine Liu, Educational Services Coordinator at the San Leandro Unified School District.
The panelists discussed how state and district level policies and practices related to assessment, curriculum and instruction, and teacher professional learning can improve teachers’ ability to attend to students’ mathematics identities and shape students’ opportunities to see themselves as “math people.”
The video of their session is now available:
Opportunities like these for researchers to speak directly with practice and policy audiences are important to ensure that research is clear and meaningful outside of academia, and to spark and shape researchers’ thinking based on the feedback they receive from practice and policy audiences.
These two examples following the use of the IME ECF findings show how connections across research, philanthropy, practice, and policy can extend the impact of research. Together, education stakeholders who share common knowledge can create a chorus of voices advancing inclusive learning environments that set every student up to learn and thrive.