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Annual Report Overviews


Annual Overview

submitter: Making Mathematics Reform a Reality in Middle Schools
published: 11/19/1998
posted to site: 11/19/1998

Making Mathematics Reform a Reality in Middle Schools (ESI-9553579)

University of Rochester -- Raffaella Borasi (PI)

PART I -- Annual Overview

This 3-1/2 year LSC project is intended to promote, support and study the process of school-wide mathematics reform in four suburban/rural middle schools in the Rochester (NY) area. These schools’ commitment to school mathematics reform developed as a result of a prior NSF-funded teacher enhancement project (#TPE-9153812), which involved 3-5 teachers from each of these schools. This LSC project serves a total of about 50 teachers; with the goal of impacting all teachers providing math instruction in each school, these participants include special education and elementary teachers as well as certified mathematics teachers. At each site, a mathematics teacher educator acts as "school facilitator," with the role of supporting participants’ field experiences and facilitating school-wide reform efforts; one/two teachers in each school also took on the role of "lead teacher" and receive additional training to develop capacity for this role.

This LSC project is also enhanced by a concurrent D.D. Eisenhower higher education grant from the New York State Department of Education (#0132-97-0054). This funding supports an added teacher preparation component and professional development efforts for representatives from the larger community playing a role in mathematics education at the four schools (ex: tutors, parents, teachers from other schools in the same district, etc.).

Considerable efforts during this second year of the project (September 97 -- August 98) was again devoted to professional development. The initiatives offered this year included: (a) a repeat of the Introductory Summer Institute (40 hours) intended to introduce all new participants to school mathematics reform; (b) a repeat of six "Mini-series" (10 hours each) focusing on the teaching of specific math topics, offered over the course of the school year; (c) fifteen new "Study groups" (5-10 hours each), each involving a small group of teachers (usually from the same school site) in planning innovative instructional units; (d) a repeat of an Advanced Summer Institute (45 hours) focusing on rethinking the teaching of algebra; (e/f/g) various "ad-hoc" professional development designed to respond to specific needs at the project, school and/or individual level, including a new day-long session on the process of planning inquiry units, and two meetings to address special education issues; (h) the continuation of monthly meetings of a Leadership Seminar involving all lead teachers and school facilitators (for a total of 40 hours). Some of these initiatives (a-d) included follow-up field experiences involving the implementation of teacher-designed inquiry unit and/or of exemplary instructional materials (i.e., "illustrative inquiry units" created in the previous NSF-funded project, and/or Connected Mathematics or Math in Context units).

The extent of teachers’ participation in the project to date met and even exceeded expectations in three of the four target schools (#1, #3 & #4). In these three schools, math and special education teachers have already received an average of 138 hours of professional development, with 25 teachers reaching the minimum of 130 hours of professional development (out of a target of 30). The project also tried to reach other people influencing mathematics instruction in these schools and districts by providing 24 more people with a minimum of 40 hours of professional development. In the fourth school (#2), due to a combination of lack of administrative support, conflicting district policies and teacher mobility, we have achieved only an average of 69 hours of professional development to all math and special education teachers, although we have succeeded in introducing school mathematics reform to 13 of the 16 teachers currently responsible for mathematics instruction.

These intensive professional development efforts have already paid off in terms of instructional innovation. During the year 1997/98, teachers responsible to teach mathematics in the four schools implemented an average of 12 weeks of innovative instruction -- twice as many as what was recorded the previous year. In most cases, teachers worked in pairs or small groups to develop these experiences, and benefited from the support of the school facilitator and/or a lead teacher. By the end of year 2 of the project, we have recorded the following percentages of instructional innovation schoolwide: 30% for School #1; 19% for School #2; 36% for School #3; 25% for School #4 -- all representing a considerable increase from the previous year.

We have been able to retain only 5 of the desired 8 lead teachers; however, each of these teachers received an average of over 300 hours of professional development to date, besides engaging in many leadership activities over the course of the year.

Systemic efforts differed considerably across the four schools, due to their unique histories and circumstances. Two schools (#1 & #4) -- those with a longer history of involvment in mathematics reform and with a functioning team of two lead teachers each -- have made considerable progress towards developing a culture of collaborative practice aiming towards school mathematics reform. In these two schools, groups of teachers have come to value engaging in shared professional development experiences (especially "study groups"), planning common units, and engaging in discussions about curriculum and/or teaching practices. In one of these school (#1), considerable progress has also been made towards making schoolwide curriculum changes. Lead teachers in both schools have also made explicit efforts to initiate the process of school mathematics reform in other schools in the district. Progress in all these directions was much less in the other two schools (#2 & #3), due to a combination of circumstances.

Despite the progress achieved in the first two years of the project, several obstacles have been experienced. The greatest one continues to be the fact that NSF and school funds are grossly insufficient to cover the amount of time required of participants, lead teachers and school facilitators to support real changes in classroom and school practices; the time volunteered by most participants and project staff to date is unsustainable over the long haul and continues to cause feelings of overwhelmedness and frustration from all those involved. Support from the school and district administration fell short of expectations in all but one of the four schools, although efforts have been made at the other three schools over this second year to reduce this problem. A union grievance initiated in Year 1 in one of the participating school had long terms negative effects in that school that went beyond what we had anticipated. Although we continue to believe that including special education teachers in a LSC project is essential to insure that mathematics instruction improves for all students, we have come to realize that doing so presents many challenges -- both in terms of recruiting special education teachers to join the project, and of offering appropriate professional development.