Solving for X: Constructing Algebra and Algebra Policy During a Time of Change

Emily Handsman*, Caitlin Farrell, Cynthia Coburn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The year students take Algebra I historically determines how far they progress in secondary mathematics, creating complex equity issues around access to this course. By examining a case study of one large, urban school district adjusting to the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics (CCSS-M), we demonstrate how district leaders’ interactions, in combination with their organizational and institutional environments, led to an overhaul of the secondary mathematics course pathway, ending in detracked middle school mathematics. We find that district leaders’ deliberations of mathematics policy were constrained by organizational concerns around pedagogy, equity, logistics, and politics. In other words, the disruption created by the CCSS-M was limited by extant organizational priorities. This study has potential implications for theorizing disruptions and for better understanding equity-oriented mathematics policy and practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)216-232
Number of pages17
JournalSociology of Education
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2022


  • STEM
  • educational policymakers
  • ethnography
  • school policy
  • tracking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science


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