Black History Month is a time for celebration. But Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the founder of Black History Month, also called for advocacy – the need to create a more equitable future for all Americans, particularly those who have been systematically disenfranchised. This is especially true when we look at mathematics – the focus of our K-12 strategy and a key lever for creating a more equitable future for all Americans.
There is much to celebrate. From Benjamin Banneker to Katherine Johnson to Bob Moses, Black Americans have demonstrated ingenuity, brilliance, and commitment in mathematics. Through our partnerships and work together, I’m inspired by so many of today’s Black math leaders working to advance the field.
But celebration also has to yield to advocacy. Our current approach to mathematics instruction is systematically failing too many students – with the most devastating consequences for Black students. Contrary to stereotypes, NAEP student surveys have shown that Black students see themselves as motivated and as “a math person” in far greater numbers than other groups. And yet the system fails to provide key resources – access to high-quality, engaging curricula, qualified math teachers, advanced courses and additional supports. As a result, as they progress through school, Black students are not sufficiently challenged or supported in mathematics. And they are excluded from the success that mathematics can bring in a job or civic leadership. We can and must do more.
This is what we know for sure: The next Benjamin Banneker or Katherine Johnson is in today’s math classrooms, and we must do everything we can to enable them to grow and flourish. For their sake and for the sake of our country.
Director, K-12 Education