An Inch Wide and An Inch Deep: A Call To Action

One of the most popular ways to critically describe mathematics education in the United States is “a mile wide and an inch deep.” The TL;DR is that most mathematics education focuses on too broad an array of topics with a lack of emphasis on conceptual understanding and critical thinking.

My worry is that most special education math classes are an inch wide and an inch deep. I ran across this chart from Browder, Spooner, Ahlgrim-Delzell, Harris, Wakeman (2008).


Demonstrated here is a clear focus on an extremely small amount of topics and the only one investigated in any kind of depth is financial literacy, which admittedly is an extremely important topic for students with disabilities. For students with disabilities to be successful members of their communities they need to be financially literate. But this need should not preclude students with disabilities from exploring other mathematical topics.

I think Jennifer Lawler hit the nail on the head in response to this chart:

Students with disabilities can and should learn:

Here’s my call to action!

Please let me know how you integrate these and other topics into your special education math classes! Let’s show that we understand students with disabilities deserve more than a curriculum that is an inch wide and an inch deep! 

7 thoughts on “An Inch Wide and An Inch Deep: A Call To Action

  1. Thanks, Andrew. I am really passionate about this topic. I believe we do our students with disabilities a huge disservice when we limit their access to grade level mathematics. The transition to standards-based IEPs will really challenge teachers of students with disabilities to think differently about the mathematics they should be learning. That being said, there is a serious need for standards-based curriculum designed specifically to address the learning needs of students with disabilities, especially mild intellectual disabilities, as well as professional learning for their teachers. Kudos to you for all that you do to make rigorous mathematics accessible to your students.


    • Thanks for the thoughtful reply Jennifer!

      What do you see as the difference (if any) between access to grade level mathematics and standards-based IEPs/curriculum?


  2. An interesting feature I really appreciate of Grace’s and Amy’s work is that none of what they do requires changing the mathematical goals we work on with students; instead we add instructional supports to give access to the mathematical ideas. Shifting the goalposts is an easy way to ensure that special education students achieve “success” but of course, now the goalposts have been shifted and those students are now playing an easier game.


  3. Teaching to Special Ed. students at Juvenile Hall helped me to become a better teacher. I learned that they could learn Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry or whatever I wanted to teach… but I needed to find an engaging way. One of the best way was making them to participate all the time. If I was going to teach Pythagoras Theorem, I asked them one by one to draw a right triangle on the digital board. We had fun talking about some four-sides triangle someone drew. Mistakes were accepted and became vital part of learning process.


  4. Pingback: ‘Tis the Season for Global Math Department / Global Math Department

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