What's Equity? What Do AMTE Members Say It Is?

Carlos LópezLeiva, U. of New Mexico

Answering this equity-focused question was the central idea of the survey that 170 AMTE members responded to around January 2020. Preliminary survey results were presented at the AMTE 2020 Conference by the Equity Committee. 

A wide range of perspectives were observed in the responses. A straight, common answer is not what should be expected from such a number. This wide range stems from the fact that the term equity itself is not related to promoting equality, but to being equitable. Often, a picture of three children of different heights watching a game behind a fence has been used to portray the need that in order to address equity, differences need to be worked out. In this context, various suggestions for solving children’s access to the game or even willingness to be at the game have been raised.  

In fact, Gutiérrez (2008) has pointed out that equity framings in mainstream mathematics education often reflect equality rather than justice, because teachers’ and students’ identities are deemed static rather than multiple or contradictory ones, and mathematics education focuses more on schooling rather than on education. The reality is that teachers’ and students’ identities are multiple, always evolving, and at the center of mathematics education. Multiple identities have been brought before as essential aspects of teaching mathematics equitably. Khisty (2002), for example, described effective teachers who worked with English learners 

... did not avoid the difficulties that mathematical language presented but used them as a vehicle to extend and strengthen students' language proficiencies and subject understanding. The assumption was that students could learn both the language and the content with appropriate instructional supports.   

Thus, teachers who addressed language differences in the mathematics classroom did not restrain from using a rich and complex mathematics curriculum, instead within that context teachers worked on generating appropriate supports for students’ English linguistic development and successful learning of mathematics.  

Similarly, regarding Mathematics Teacher Educators, the scope of the equity focus extends beyond students to teachers and prospective teachers. With this focus, Kitchen (2005) asserted the relevance of promoting trust with prospective teachers “by demonstrating my interest in attending to their most immediate needs, we begin to explore topics related to multiculturalism and equity” (p. 41). Therefore, trust in thinking about teaching mathematics is connected to the identities of those who teach and to support deeper thinking. Identities need to be included in thinking about how to teach mathematics, which is also central to student learning.     

Therefore, we can observe that equity is not only founded and built on definitions, but on every practice enacted in the mathematics classroom. Equitable, meaningful work in mathematics cannot be ignored and needs to be linked to the identities of those who are in the classroom. Gutiérrez (2009) asserted that such actions open opportunities to realize that taking an equity stance means recognizing that as a mathematics teacher, and mathematics teacher educator, one teaches mathematics and so much more

Nevertheless, what one decides to practice in a classroom is also constrained by the expectations that educators are placed under and what educators choose to do within those constraints. Therefore, our foundational definitions of what equity means are affected by how we implement them, filtered through the systemic power issues of our contexts. As a result, what we do, can, and want to do in the classroom, frames the level of equitable work we do. A focus on equity in Mathematics Education seems related to consciously engaging in issues of identity and power, of who is in the classroom, and of how we relate to one another in mathematics. As Gutiérrez has argued several times, it is not that “people need math” but that “math needs people” (Gutiérrez, 2013). 

As one sustains the view that mathematics needs people, one also needs to acknowledge that the work of equity in Mathematics Education and Mathematics Teacher Education includes the work and identities of those in Mathematics Education.  

The questions on the equity-focused survey that the AMTE Equity Committee distributed at the end of 2019/beginning of 2020 explored different topics from the perspectives of Mathematics Teacher Educators: 

-What does equity in mathematics education mean to you?

-How does your definition and perspective transfer into your practice? 

-What are some current equity issues or problems in Mathematics Teacher Education? 

-What areas of equity in mathematics education should AMTE take leadership in? 

Results of AMTE members’ collective definitions of and perspectives on equity will be shared gradually through a series of briefs that the Equity Committee has named: Equity Committee Conversation Corner (EC3). These briefs will appear in AMTE’s publication Connections. Based on these results, the committee will suggest actionable areas that both the Committee and AMTE could take to respond to what the AMTE community has shared in the survey. The goals of sharing these findings are to prompt the AMTE community to realize and reflect upon where WE are in terms of our vision on equity and with this on the ‘table’, prompt avenues of where WE need and want to go. It is time to disrupt the ghettoization (Gutiérrez, 2013) of equity in mathematics education and instead turn it pandemic.  


Gutiérrez, R. (2009). Embracing the inherent tensions in teaching mathematics from an equity stance. Democracy and Education, 18(3), 9–16.

Gutiérrez, R. (2008). A “gap gazing” fetish in mathematics education? Problematizing research on the achievement gap. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 39(4), 357–364.

Gutiérrez, R. (2013). The sociopolitical turn in Mathematics Education. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 44(1), 37–68.

Khisty, L. L. (2002) Mathematics learning and the Latino student: suggestions from research for classroom practice. (Research, Reflection, Practice). Teaching Children Mathematics, 9(1), p. 32+.

Kitchen, R. S. (2005). Making equity and multiculturalism explicit to transform mathematics education. In A. J. Rodriguez and R. S. Kitchen (Eds), Preparing mathematics and science teachers for diverse classrooms: Promising strategies for transformative pedagogy (pp. 33–60). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.