Recess Blog

Whiteness and Mathematics

By Rob Schroeder
April 26, 2017

Are even the most well-meaning teachers susceptible to the impacts of stereotypes in mathematics?  Research from the College's Danny Martin, PhD, professor of curriculum and instruction, on racial heirarchies in mathematics ability was recently cited in an article by The Atlantic.  The article explores how Whiteness reproduces racial advantages and disadvantages.

A Latino student works on a math problem with pencil and paper at a desk.

One example of whiteness explored in the paper is how the relentless drumbeat from researchers about racial differences in math achievement is linked to racially differential treatment in math classrooms. The concept of racial hierarchy of mathematical ability—a term coined by Danny Martin, education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago—basically says constantly reading and hearing about underperforming black, Latino, and indigenous students begins to embed itself into how math teachers view these students, attributing achievement differences to their innate ability to succeed in math.

As the theory goes, with white and Asian students consistently at the top of math-achievement rankings—and black and other nonwhite students continuously trailing behind—teachers start to expect worse performance from certain students, start to teach lower content, and start to use lower-level math instructional practices. By contrast, white and Asian students are given the benefit of the doubt and automatically afforded the opportunity to do more sophisticated and substantive mathematics. The consequences are classrooms where Asian students not excelling in math are seen as an oddity, and black students excelling in math are seen as an outlier.

Read the full article.

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