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Pittsburgh Public Schools will change math instruction to be more equitable

Pittsburgh Public Schools will change math instruction to be more equitable
Pittsburgh Public Schools will change math instruction to be more equitable 03:22

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Pittsburgh Public Schools has hired a consultant to teach a new method of instructing kids. 

No matter how math is taught, one plus one equals two. But Pittsburgh Public Schools is offering a new method to address racial equity in math classes called "anti-racist" instruction.

KDKA-TV's Andy Sheehan: "We think of math as addition, subtraction, multiplication, an objective reality. How can math be racist?"

Assistant Superintendent Shawn McNeil: "We're talking about really a mindset and it's an approach. So, whether we use the term anti-racist or talk about racial equity, it's the same."

Last week, the school board approved a $50,000 contract to the consulting group Quetzal Education to provide workshops for district math teachers to fully engage students of color in learning math and hopefully improve performance. 

According to the most recent test scores, 11.6 percent of the district's African American grade school students scored proficient in math compared to 47.5 percent of white students, and the district has long sought to close that gap and says it will now be taking this approach. 

Sheehan: "It's one thing to say that African American students are underperforming, but it's another thing to say that the instruction by math teachers is racist."

McNeil: "We don't use any language to call any approaches racist, but what we do is we talk about approaches that are anti-racist."

According to McNeil, this means addressing historic inequities in educating students by exposing them to Black professionals in STEM fields to tell students of the African American legacy in mathematics and emphasizing its practical applications in a hands-on way. McNeil says the emphasis is on concepts and reasoning rather than putting importance on getting the answer correct.

Sheehan: "Is this not sort of dumbing down the math curriculum to say, 'Hey, you didn't get the right answer but close enough?'"

McNeil: "At times, there is a right or wrong answer. But we don't just emphasize the right or wrong answer, we emphasize the journey."

Teachers at the district's Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy who took the workshops last year say they were provided practical strategies to engage their students of color in how math works in their daily lives and that those strategies are paying off.

"It was awesome to be given assignments and challenges like that last year and to think about how I can be a better teacher for our Black and brown students and make their learning experience even better here at Sci-Tech," math teacher Julie Lazzaro said.

Perhaps it's the wording of the consultant contract rather than the methods themselves that caused the controversy. But the district says the teaching of math going forward will address issues of equity and access and spark a new love math among of students of color. 

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