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Creating mathematical futures through an equitable teaching approach: The case of Railside School

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-07, 20:05 authored by Jo Boaler, Megan Staples
Background/Context: School tracking practices have been documented repeatedly as having negative effects on students’ identity development and attainment, particularly for those students placed in lower tracks. Despite this documentation, tracking persists as a normative practice in American high schools, perhaps in part because we have few models of how departments and teachers can successfully organize instruction in heterogeneous, high school mathematics classes. This paper offers one such model through a qualitative and quantitative analysis. Focus of Study: In an effort to better the field’s understanding of equitable and successful teaching, we conducted a longitudinal study of three high schools. At one school, Railside, students demonstrated greater gains in achievement than students at the other two schools and higher overall achievement on a number of measures. Furthermore, achievement gaps among various ethnic groups at Railside that were present on incoming assessments disappeared in nearly all cases by the end of the second year. This paper provides an analysis of Railside’s success and identifies factors that contributed to this success. Participants: Participants included approximately 700 students as they progressed through three California high schools. Railside was an urban high school with an ethnically, linguistically, and economically diverse student body. Greendale was situated in a coastal community with a more homogeneous, primarily White student body. Hilltop was a rural high school with primarily White and Latino/a students. Research Design: This longitudinal, multiple case study employed mixed methods. Three schools were chosen to offer a range of curricular programs and varied student populations. Student achievement and attitudinal data were evaluated using statistical techniques, whereas teacher and student practices were documented using qualitative analytic techniques such as coding. Findings/Results: One of the findings of the study was the success of Railside school, where the mathematics department taught heterogeneous classes using a reform-oriented approach. Compared with the other two schools in the study, Railside students learned more, enjoyed mathematics more and progressed to higher mathematics levels. This paper presents large-scale evidence of these important achievements and provides detailed analyses of the ways that the Railside teachers brought them about, with a focus on the teaching and learning interactions within the classrooms.


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  • Published


Teachers College Record









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  • Education Publications


This peer-reviewed paper was first given as a plenary talk for ICME in 2004 and is available on the web, for example of the Tasmanian Government. It has been influential worldwide, especially in the USA where it is used extensively in programmes of education across the country. It has also had extensive policy influence; for example, it was cited in the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of parents vs the Seattle Court District, (Nos 05-908 & 05-915). The Department of Education in Australia decided to implement Boaler's recommended approach in Australia's most struggling schools. Boaler was the PI of the project and conducted most of the analysis and writing; this version of the paper is co-authored with one of Boaler's doctoral students from Stanford. The paper will appear in 2008 in a special edition (vol 110, 3) of Teachers' College Record.

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