Mathematics Teacher Educators’ Conceptualizations of Equity

Elizabeth Suazo-Flores, Purdue U., Kathleen Stoehr, Santa Clara U., & Anthony Fernandes, UNC Charlotte

Equity is a construct that mathematics teacher educators and researchers have been concerned about for several decades. In 1997, Tate and D’Ambrosio edited a special issue in the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, where authors shared their thinking about equity issues in school mathematics. Since then, mathematics education researchers (MERs) and mathematics teacher educators (MTEs) have continued to attend to this area. For instance, there have been calls for research that utilizes a sociocultural perspective (Lubienski, 2002), builds on students’ and families’ knowledge as resources for schooling (Civil, 2007), and frames equity from dominant and critical dimensions (Gutiérrez, 2009; Lubienski & Gutiérrez, 2008). In 2015, the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators’ (AMTE) position statement defined equity as “access to high-quality learning experiences; inclusion for all learners, mathematics educators, and mathematics teacher educators; and respectful and fair engagement with others” (AMTE, 2015, p. 1). More recently, MERs have called for equity as an intentional, collective professional responsibility (Aguirre et al., 2017) and described research-based equitable mathematics teaching practices (Bartell et al., 2017). The field has shifted from viewing equity as a stand-alone research area to encompassing all aspects of our practices as MERs and MTEs.

The AMTE Equity Committee recently explored the AMTE community’s conceptualizations of equity. We asked the following question as part of a 2019 AMTE survey on equity: “What does equity in mathematics education mean to you?” One hundred seventy AMTE members responded to the question between Fall 2019 and Spring 2020. Most of the respondents were MTEs who held positions at colleges or universities. Members of the Equity Committee coded the answers to this question. A member’s response often had multiple codes associated with it. The codes and their descriptions and frequencies are shown in Table 1.

Table 1

Survey Findings: Codes, Descriptions, and Frequencies





K-12 students or teacher candidates having access to high-quality mathematics education


Disrupting status quo

The system needing to change as it is inequitable for marginalized students



K-12 students and teachers being able to see themselves represented in the mathematics curricula


Cultural ways of knowing

K-12 students’ and teachers’ backgrounds and cultural ways of knowing valued and attended


Sociopolitical consciousness

K-12 teachers and MTEs reflecting and becoming aware of their practices concerning sociopolitical contexts


Rochelle Gutierrez

References to Rochelle Gutierrez’ work and language without further interpretation


High expectations

Teachers having high expectations for their K-12 students



Our analysis illuminated the idea that most AMTE members’ responses referred to equity as providing access to resources in high-quality mathematics education and classroom environments that support the participation of all students. Below we share two MTEs’ responses to which we assigned the code access.

Math teachers provide learning experiences for their students that prepare them for the math content knowledge and practice skills they will need for their future personal and professional endeavors. Challenging students while simultaneously providing all necessary support to ensure each and every student achieves the course student learning outcomes.

Equity in mathematics education means all students have opportunities to learn mathematics (learn = Adding It Up mixture of procedural fluency, conceptual understanding, strategic flexibility, productive disposition, etc.); students need different supports and opportunities in order to reach comparable levels of achievement and understanding. Equity is about high expectations, but also providing sufficient supports for students to meet the high expectations. Equity is not just about outcomes (achievement) but also about access, identity, and power. Equity in math education means all students have access to excellent instruction, enough support to develop positive mathematics identities, and have their voices heard. Equity requires teachers to understand implicit biases and explicitly plan to correct for such biases. Equity means culturally responsive teaching that values students, contributions, and existing knowledge. Equity is the opposite of a deficit mindset about students: with equity in mathematics education, teachers have a growth mindset about their students, abilities to know and do mathematics. Equity actively engages students in learning, doing, and communicating mathematics.

These two MTEs’ responses show evidence of the wide range of AMTE members’ conceptualizations of equity. In the first response, equity is viewed as access to high-level content and content that aligns with society’s expectations, regardless of other kinds of access students could have. The second MTE’s response is much broader. It includes students having access to collaborative relations with school and society, and teachers who believe in students and actively acknowledge and correct their own biases.

We learned that AMTE members’ conceptualizations of equity align with AMTE’s definition of equity, which describes equity as access to high-quality mathematics experiences. This is evidence of progress in our conceptualization of equity, as equity was initially understood as only related to achievement (Gutiérrez, 2008). Thinking of equity as access is necessary, but we need to go further (Gutiérrez, 2009). We need to challenge the status quo and address past injustices of historically marginalized communities that are still affecting and limiting the two-way relationships that schools should have with their students, communities, and families. One way to challenge the status quo and address past injustices is doing what the MTE’s response above mentions: “Equity requires teachers to understand implicit biases and explicitly plan to correct for such biases.”

In the responses to the survey question, we also realized that AMTE members mostly referred to K-12 students and teachers, but not to themselves. It seems that our approaches to equity are about getting others to enact equitable teaching practices (Aguirre et al., 2017). Let us clarify that this is not true of all the respondents to the survey. For instance, an AMTE member indicated:

Equity in mathematics education, to me, is a process (as opposed to a state to be reached). The continual identification of inequity and oppression and continual revision of practice, reflection, and learning of self, etc., to confront and lessen said inequity and oppression. It requires a sort of constant vigilance and a stance toward continual learning as a teacher and teacher educator.

For the respondent quoted above, we see a conceptualization of equity as a process where MTEs revisit their practices and learn about themselves. This process makes MTEs aware of who they are in the teaching moment, and how their experiences and identities bring them to make their curricular decisions when working with teacher candidates. For instance, while engaging with our teacher candidates on a particular teaching day, our teaching practices could be far from equitable (Bartell et al., 2017). Yet, the revision of such practices and the actions taken after that revision make an AMTE member closer to enacting equitable mathematics education. 

Making our ideologies explicit, exploring our lived experiences and identities in relationship to our research and practices, and reflecting on assumptions and decisions we make take work. This work is necessary for sustainable progress toward a more humane and equitable mathematics education. (Aguirre et al., 2017, p. 126)

It seems our next step as an AMTE community to move further along the equitable mathematics education continuum could be to develop self-awareness. This requires a continued introspection of our choices and how they are informed by who we are and our experiences. How do we become more aware of our identities, experiences, and biases, and also consider how they interplay in the work we do as MTEs and MERs? This often becomes a challenge with our busy academic and personal schedules, but what if we incorporate this introspection as part of our regular academic work.


As AMTE members continue to revise their conceptualizations of equity, we propose two action items: (1) broadening AMTE’s definition of equity; and (2) developing MTEs’ self-awareness of their experiences and biases. In AMTE’s current definition of equity, access is prominent, and AMTE should consider broadening their definition to explicitly include issues of identity and power (critical axis, Gutiérrez, 2009). For the second item, one possible way MTEs could develop self-awareness is by systematically exploring their own teaching practices (e.g., Grant & Butler, 2018; Hjalmarson, 2017; Hohensee & Lewis, 2019; Kastberg et al., 2018, 2019; Chapman et al., 2020). Using self-studies (LaBoskey, 2004), MTEs have sought to make explicit and question their practices through systematic investigation. For example, through self-study Hohensee and Lewis (2019) discovered new perspectives on questions to pose in whole-class discussions. Grant and Butler’s (2018) self-study revealed struggles related to “outsidership” (p. 320), expectations, and programmatic shifts. They provided an example of how an MTE documented her experiences as a “minoritized woman” (Grant & Butler, 2018, p. 324) in academia. These self-studies illustrate how MTEs can become aware of their identities and biases, and how these influence their decision-making process when working with teacher candidates. We see becoming aware of our identity and biases as part of a continual process of becoming more equitable MTEs (Aguirre et al., 2017).


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Acknowledgement: We want to thank Maria Zavala, Carlos Lopez Leiva, and Karie Brown-Tess for their comments on earlier versions of this manuscript.