Equity in Math Education Research Grants (EMERG) Program Collective Understandings


The goal of the Equity in Math Education Research Grants (EMERG) Program is to build a powerful research community that focuses on successful mathematics learning and participation for students who face systemic challenges, specifically those from African-American, Latine, Indigenous, and low-income communities in the United States. As the Call for the EMERG program was being drafted, we found that some of the language we wanted to use included terms that are contested and open to multiple interpretations. We have flagged some of those terms in the Call,  and we provide preliminary discussions of those terms and others  in the text that follows. We expect that our collective understandings of these terms will evolve over the course of this project, and be reflected in this evolving document.

Statement on Ambitious and Equitable Experiences

We use the phrase “ambitious and equitable experiences” as a shorthand to denote the broad space of inquiry for EMERG projects and discussion. Here is our preliminary sense of each term. Our expectation is that these terms will be problematized and refined or replaced over the course of the project.

We choose the term “experiences” because the mathematical content and practices people know, what they take mathematics to be, and how they see themselves vis-à-vis mathematics (their mathematical identities) are shaped by a wide range of experiences, both inside and outside of schools. Social prejudices, for example, can be as fundamental in shaping a person’s mathematical identity as that individual’s classroom history. If a series of events affects someone’s mathematical knowledge, their sense of what mathematics is, and/or whether and in what ways mathematics is open to them, explorations of those events falls well within the umbrella of this project.

We draw the term “ambitious” from the commonly used term “ambitious instruction,” which in general (not just in mathematics) is taken to mean providing students with opportunities to engage with rich disciplinary content and practices. Here too we can expand easily. Mathematics offers opportunities for reasoning and sensemaking, for making connections, conjecture and proof, and for applying one’s understandings in modeling, on the job, and in everyday life. Beyond that, the most ambitious reading of “ambitious” is the encouragement and support of people’s mathematical ambitions.

We use the word “equitable” as a well-recognized but hardly well-defined introduction to the universe of issues related to how diverse populations and individuals are or are not offered opportunities to engage with mathematics, and the impact of those opportunities. Those who are privileged to engage with mathematical ideas in supportive communities have the opportunities to develop positive mathematical identities as well as rich and connected knowledge and productive mathematics beliefs. Those deprived of such opportunities do not. This is a large space for exploration.

Statement on Inclusive Language Related to Race and Ethnicity

We acknowledge that the racial and ethnic categories and labels referenced in this call, such as African American, Latine, and White, are sociopolitical constructions that mask the complexities of individual and group identity and membership (Cornell & Hartmann, 2007). As social and political constructions, these racial and ethnic categories are not biological fact; rather, they are products of sociohistorical contestations and negotiations. With respect to race, Michael Omi and Howard Winant (1986) stated, “Racial categories and the meaning of race are given concrete expression by the specific social relations and historical context in which they are embedded” (p. 60). Eduardo Bonilla-Silva has further noted that “actors in racial positions do not occupy those positions because they are of X or Y race, but because X or Y has been socially defined as race” (Bonilla-Silva, 1997). Although the categories and labels are social constructions, the placing of people within these categories and labels has real and material consequences. For example, within the racialized social system of the United States, where “economic, political, social, and ideological levels are partially structured by the placement of actors in racial categories” (Bonilla-Silva, 1997), these categories and labels have been used to maintain and reify racial hierarchies that structure relations between individuals and groups.

With respect to ethnicity, Smedley and Smedley (2005) pointed out:

“Ethnicity refers to clusters of people who have common culture traits that they distinguish from those of other people. People who share a common language, geographic locale or place of origin, religion, sense of history, traditions, values, beliefs, food habits, and so forth, are perceived, and view themselves as constituting, an ethnic group (see, e.g., Jones, 1997; Parrillo, 1997; A. Smedley, 1999b; Steinberg, 1989; Takaki, 1993).” (p. 17)

We acknowledge that, while contested and negotiated, racial and ethnic categories and labels can and do serve as contexts for political solidarity, social mobilization, and self-determination. For example, while the term African American, which is both racial and ethnic, can be used to identify and distinguish the descendants of African peoples who were enslaved in America, the term may also be used to politically organize African-origin people whose terms of incorporation into the United States were different. In addition, the racial category Black may be preferred by some to serve the same political ends or may be used to indicate solidarity with the Black Diaspora (the worldwide communities of native Africans and their descendants who moved voluntarily and involuntarily to various parts of the world).

Within the EMERG Program, we elected to use gender-neutral “Latine” rather than “Latino/s” or “Latinx.” We cite here from the NAS report “Advancing Antiracism, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in STEMM Organizations: Beyond Broadening Participation (2023): 

Latine is a term “created by gender non-binary and feminist communities in Spanish-speaking countries. The objective of the term is also to remove gender from Spanish, by replacing it with the gender-neutral Spanish letter E, which can already be found in words like estudiante” (“Why/Latinx/E?,” n.d.). Learners  in this population can also be labeled using several other terms, such as Hispanic, Mexican-American, Puerto Rican, South American, or Central American.  To clarify, we also include a distinction between Hispanic and Latine, again quoting the NAS report:

“Hispanic and Latine are both ethnicities. Hispanic refers to people from Spain or from Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America who can be of any race; it does not include individuals with Brazilian heritage. Latine refers to people from Latin America regardless of language (Lopez et al., 2022). The inclusion of Hispanic or Latine in the U.S. census only dates to the 1980 census (Parker et al., 2015). Since then, OMB developed standards for collecting data on Hispanic individuals in 1997 and revised them in 2016.  Given that Hispanic is an ethnicity and can be combined with any race, it has posed challenges as a data category, and the Census Bureau has acknowledged confusion on the part of many Hispanics over the way race is categorized and how the census form asks about it (U.S. Census Bureau, 2021a; 2021b). Civil rights advocates have expressed concern that an all-in-one race and Hispanic question could lead to a “possible loss of race data through a combined race and Hispanic origin question, the diminished accuracy of detailed Hispanic subgroup data, and the ability to compare data over time to monitor trends” (Parker et al., 2015).

Research award applicants should honor the categories and labels that people choose for themselves. We encourage applicants to explain how and why they use specific terms to designate racial and ethnic categories or socioeconomic status in their proposals, noting important overlaps (e.g., an individual identifying as Afro-Latine or West Indian or bi-racial) and distinctions (e.g., in the terms of incorporation into U.S. society; enslavement versus immigration) within and between racial and ethnic categories matter (Cornell & Hartmann, 2007). Applicants should also explain their use of related concepts such as racism (everyday, systemic, structural, institutional), ethnocentrismWhite supremacy, antiblackness, minoritized, non-dominant, and people of color. Similarly, we acknowledge that terms like low-income, used alone or juxtaposed with racial and ethnic categories and labels, can obscure the cultural capital and funds of knowledge that individuals, families, and communities draw upon to negotiate their life circumstances. 

Statement on Language

The word “Language” is not a proxy for English learners or immigrants – it’s language, broadly speaking.

We want to clarify what we mean by the term “language”, in part because research on “language issues” can be mis-interpreted (and diminished) as being only about a particular group of learners, rather than being about how children and youth who use language as they learn mathematics (D’Ambrosio et al, 2013). For example, that term can, at times, be used as a proxy for English learners and/or immigrant learners; at other times, that term may be used as a proxy for Latine learners. 

We also note that “the label English learners is not necessarily used to refer to students’ language proficiency; many times it is being used as a tool to segregate student populations” (D’Ambrosio et al, 2013; Setati & Moschkovich, 2013).  When referring to a particular learner population, we choose the  label bilingual or multilingual over English learner for two reasons. One is that it focuses on what students know and can do (speak two or more  languages) instead of what they do not know (English). The second reason is that the label English learner in the United States can be used to refer to Latine students or “as a proxy for race and socioeconomic class (Setati, 2013). In the US, for example, in 2018, the majority of English learners (about 80%) were, in fact, not only Latine but also Mexican-Americans (Planty et al., 2008). There are also issues with using the term bilingual, since some learners may be multilingual, for example immigrant youth from Mexico who speak an indigenous language and Spanish as an additional language: 

“the label English learner, as used in the United States, is vague, has different meanings, is not based on objective criteria, does not reflect sound classifications, and is not comparable across states or equivalent across settings (Gándara & Contreras, 2009). In California, 25% (1.5 million) of the children in public schools in 2001 were labeled English learners and 83% of those children spoke Spanish as their primary language [Tafoya, 2002]. To add to the complexity, some of the Latino/a children in U.S. classrooms may, in fact, not be native Spanish speakers but may have been raised speaking a native language (such as Maya or Purepecha) at home, and so are, in fact, multilingual.” (Setati & Moschkovich, 2013)

Overall, we frame language not only as a cognitive phenomenon, but also as interactional, social, cultural, and political (Setati, 2005). Issues of language in classrooms include issues of power directly and explicitly, for example by looking at student positioning during discussion in mathematics classrooms, or questions of who-gets-to-talk-when, or what discourses are reified in mathematics classrooms, and so on. Our use of the term language includes what linguists call multiple language varieties, including multiple varieties of English (e.g. BEV, Chicano English, etc.) and registers (e.g. everyday, academic, etc.). Lastly, in the term “language” we not only include all registers, we also assume a view that does not dichotomize everyday and academic language:

“dichotomies such as home/school language, informal/formal language, everyday/ academic language, and monolingual/bilingual as being theoretically productive or as reflecting reality. What I mean is that these dichotomies may have been useful at  one time to conceptualize the relationship between language and learning, but they no longer serve the goal of pushing our theorizing. Although they may reflect our “folk theories” of language, they certainly do not reflect contemporary theoretical views or empirical descriptions of how people use language.” 

“We encourage practitioners and researchers to consider the language diversity in their own backgrounds and in their current settings for practice. For example, even people who are monolingual English speakers have experienced language varieties that are regional (e.g., a Boston accent, the name for a paper bag in different regions) or related to socioeconomic status, age, and other aspects of identity (e.g.,varieties of British English in the film My Fair Lady, teenage slang, lyrics to music). All of these examples illustrate that language diversity is the norm, not the exception. Language diversity is not an issue that is only relevant to bilingual/multilingual classrooms or that is only a result of migration and/or segregation—language diversity is inherent in the very nature of human communicative activity and competence.” (Setati & Moschkovich, JRME, 2013)

Statement on Mathematics: What is math and where does it happen?

Major goals of education are to prepare students with the knowledge that enables them to participate as knowledgeable and agentive members of society. This is a particular challenge with regard to mathematics – see, .e.g., Schoenfeld et al., in preparation. Mathematics curricula tend to be narrowly focused on formal mathematical content and practices, making little connection to the “real world” applications and rarely drawing on the funds of knowledge students bring to the classroom with them. As a result, what people view as “mathematics” is narrowly circumscribed and rarely meaningful in personal terms. Moreover, schools, like society at large, are home to stereotypes about which groups are good at math and which are not, and structures such as tracking that exacerbate existing inequities concerning access to rich learning environments.

For these reasons we take an expansive view of mathematical thinking and the learning environments that support it. Mathematical thinking includes having:

  • access to a wide range of mathematical content,
  • powerful mathematical habits of mind, including reasoning and problem solving,
  • a predilection for “mathematizing” and making connections, and
  • a sense of themselves as someone who can and will make use of their mathematical understandings, i.e., positive mathematical identities.

In a sense, almost every learning environment is potentially a mathematics learning environment, given that experiences in and out of the classroom (including the home, social group meetings, and out-of-school clubs or work experiences) have the potential to shape mathematical thinking as described above.

Statement on the Conceptual Framework

In collaboration with the Executive Board, the principal investigators will participate in the design of a conceptual framework focused on improving our current knowledge of how students from those communities achieve mathematical “proficiency,” broadly conceived, with attention to understanding, motivation, engagement, and persistence. While addressing students’ content knowledge and participation in disciplinary practices, the proposed framework will also move the field forward in addressing  students’ mathematical agency and intersectional identities. These include whether students, their peers, teachers, and others in their learning environments (including home, community, and school) position them as being able participate in the mathematical enterprise; whether and how  different actors in students’ learning environments see and shape students’ lives and futures, including any aspects of mathematical activity within and across settings; and the systemic and structural issues in school, classroom, or informal environments that foster or constrain mathematical participation, learning, and identities.


Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. (1997). Rethinking racism: Toward a structural interpretation. American Sociological Review, 62(3):465–80.

Cornell, S., & Hartmann, D. (2007). Ethnicity and race: Making identities in a changing world. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

D’Ambrosio, B., Frankenstein, M., Gutiérrez, R., Kastberg, S., Martin, D. B., Moschkovich, J., Taylor, E., & Barnes, D. (2013). Positioning oneself in mathematics education research: JRME Equity Special Issue Editorial Panel. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 44(1), 11-22.

Gándara, P., & Contreras, F. (2009). The Latino education crisis: The consequences of failed social policies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Martin, D. B., Anderson, C. R., & Shah, N. (2017). Race and mathematics education. In J. Cai (Ed.), Compendium for Research in Mathematics Education (pp. 607-636). Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Advancing Antiracism, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in STEMM Organizations: Beyond Broadening Participation. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/26803.

Planty, M., Hussar, W., Snyder, T., Provasnik, S., Kena, G., Dinkes, R. et al. (2008). The condition of education 2008 (NCES 2008-031). Washington, DC: Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from  http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2008/2008031.pdf

Schoenfeld, A., Brown, K., Moschkovich, J., Martin, D., Asturias, H., Granados, M., Bang, M., Kokka, K., & Ball, D. (2023). Civic Discourse in Secondary School Mathematics Classrooms. Manuscript in preparation. Committee on Civic Reasoning and Discourse. Washington, DC: National Academy of Education.

Setati, M. (2005). Teaching mathematics in a primary multilingual classroom. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education. 36, 447–466.

Setati, M. & Moschkovich, J. N. (2013). Mathematics education and language diversity: A dialogue across settings.  Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 44(1), 119-128.

Smedley, A., & Smedley, B.D. (2005). Race as biology is fiction, racism as a social problem is real. American Psychologist, 60, 16-26.


Please Contact:                                            Abigail Bell
Director, Special Projects

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