Supporting Math Equity in Denver Public Schools - PEBC

Supporting Math Equity in Denver Public Schools

“Numeracy is a civil right. Agree?” PEBC facilitator Jailyn Jenkins points to one side of the open auditorium, “or disagree?” She points to the other. More than fifty teachers, instructional coaches, school administrators and district personnel of diverse backgrounds shift towards the “agree” wall with various degrees of certainty. “Turn and talk,” Jailyn invites, “Why are you standing where you are standing?” Across this human continuum, educators pair and investigate their understanding: What is numeracy? What is a civil right? Is it an actual crime that not all students are receiving an adequate mathematical education? These questions and more hover among this earnest group as they launch their learning at PEBC’s two-day Math Justice Institute.

Striving to improve K – 12 mathematics instruction across this large urban district, Denver Public Schools (DPS) partners with PEBC to offer a range of professional development opportunities and supports. PEBC staff meet monthly with the district’s math team to uplift facilitation and coaching skills, as well as plan strategically for their professional development leadership work. Three cohorts – one elementary, one middle school and one high school – comprised of teacher volunteers and instructional coaches, meet monthly with PEBC for lab classroom visits and professional development aligned with the district’s math instructional vision. All of these participants joined together for the immersive two-day PEBC Math Justice Institute, where we investigated both the need for and the means to providing more equitable math instruction. In addition, PEBC offered DPS educators a one-day seminar for leaders exploring their opportunity to lead for math success.

According to the Gates Foundation, students who do not pass Algebra I have a 20% chance of high school graduation; meanwhile, Algebra I is the most commonly failed high school class. This failure is not equitably distributed: 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores show that 10% of Asian students and 14% of white students do not meet basic benchmarks in math; by contrast, 45% of Black students, 41% of Indigenous and 36% of Latinx students are behind. Denver’s data reveals similar trends. Unwilling to accept this injustice, DPS partnered with PEBC to build capacity for math justice in the district.

In our first year, these programs are impacting sixty educators, just a fraction of DPS’s vast team, preparing them to demonstrate high quality classroom instruction and provide top notch professional development to colleagues. As we move into year two of this partnership, year one participants will continue to be supported in their leadership roles to design and facilitate ongoing professional learning for their colleagues aligned with the DPS Math Vision. Meanwhile, we will bring on a second cohort of self-determined math education leaders to work with PEBC to develop their understanding and skills, as we did with the year one group. In these ways, PEBC’s efforts are building internal capacity in both the district team and school-based math leaders to become self-sustaining resources.

One semester into this project, the responses from participants are overwhelmingly positive. Exit tickets from each professional learning event consistently score an average of 4.5 out of 5 for both engagement and relevance. One veteran math teacher remarked, “This is the best professional development the district has ever provided. A participant in our two-day Math Justice Institute shared on their evaluation, “Not only did I learn a lot of high level information regarding math and equity, I was able to gain insights into how I can make small changes in my everyday classroom to teach math for equity and understanding.” We are grateful for the opportunity to partner with Denver’s thoughtful educators in pursuit of math justice.