Systems Leadership for Math Improvement

Racially Just Leadership for Ambitious Mathematics

Our research focuses on the intersection of race, leadership, and instruction and aims to uncover how leaders support racially just mathematics instruction. We partner with school and district leaders to investigate and document existing leadership practices that support teachers to take an racial justice approach to mathematics instruction. We collaborate with school and district leadership to develop new systems, tools, and adult learning opportunities aimed at reshaping the teaching and learning of elementary school mathematics.

Why Racially Just Leadership for Ambitious Mathematics?

School leadership has the potential to shape students’ learning experiences in mathematics. These experiences are racialized, or structured by race relations that exist in the larger society (Martin, 2009). At both individual and systems levels, students’ and teachers’ race(s) inform their mathematical identities and learning opportunities. For example, white and Asian people are expected to excel at mathematics, whereas Black and Latinx people are not (Martin, 2009; Shah, 2017). At a systems level, Black and Latinx students have fewer opportunities to participate in advanced mathematics courses and are systematically tracked into remedial courses (Boaler, 2011; National Science Board, 2018). School structures support ideologies that expect that students of color don’t think critically (Alim & Paris, 2017).

Current research examines principals’ roles as instructional leaders (Neumerski et al., 2018; Rigby, 2014) and leadership towards more equitable opportunities and outcomes (Ishimaru & Galloway, 2014; Khalifa, 2018; Khalifa, Gooden, & Davis, 2016). However, both of these leadership approaches are typically researched and practiced in isolation from the other. While theorizing and professional learning opportunities for high-quality and equity-driven instruction are rarely connected, they are always coupled in everyday teaching practice. Teachers’ implicit biases frequently prevent them from offering high-quality instructional opportunities to Black, Indigenous, and students of color (Lewis & Diamond, 2015). School leaders are uniquely positioned to support and press for teachers’ learning as they facilitate school-site professional learning opportunities, allocate resources, and evaluate teachers (Rigby, Forman, & Lewis, 2019). They can and do disrupt and redesign school structures that reify white supremacy.

Our Research Project

Our NSF-funded project is a Research-Practice Partnership with school and central office leaders from Highline School District, and educational researchers from three universities. Together, we document how leaders learn and develop leadership practices aimed at racial justice and measure the impact on teachers’ instruction and students’ experiences. This project will result in a refined set of leadership practices that support racially just ambitious teaching and learning by fostering Black, Indigenous, and Latinx students’ positive racialized mathematical identities, positioning students as central members of their mathematics learning communities, and affirming their home and cultural assets.


Through our research and partnership with practitioners, we’ve developed some tools and practices for leading justice-focused ambitious mathematics. Click here for information about Math Labs and our Practical Measure. Check out our presentations to learn more about our ideas and to hear how our partners are putting them into practice.