Part One: Overview of the LSC Project
The Pittsburgh Reform in Mathematics Education (PRIME) project is a K-12 effort, involving all teachers of mathematics in the city's schools. The program's design, and staff, support these teachers with the implementation of standards-based mathematics curricula and assessment. The program is built on a carefully crafted series of staff development experiences and education in the use of new curricula. To quote from the PRIME progress report of July, 1998:
". . . PRIME provides all Pittsburgh Public Schools teachers of mathematics
with a range of activities that include:
- % Multi-day summer workshops that
introduce new materials and provide instruction in mathematics that teachers need
to use them effectively;
- % Prime-time, released-day professional development
workshops during the school year, focusing initially on the upcoming units of
study, later addressing more subtle issues of classroom implementation and sound
instructional practice; and
- % Individualized, in-class support provided by
demonstration teachers and/or mathematics lead teachers within each school
building to afford on-site modeling and immediate feedback on classroom
implementation and student performance."
(With respect to the second bullet above, there are changes necessitated for the coming year. More on that below.) In addition to the self-report just above, it is important to note some contextual features of this project, as seen from an observer's standpoint. (This observer has worked, for the past several years, with several district programs in evaluative and other capacities. This past spring, she interviewed a large number of building and central district personnel about a program separate from PRIME. These interviews also add to her knowledge base of current district affairs and conditions.)
First, the Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS), have just undergone a year of transition and uncertainty. They begin this current academic year in much the same fashion. Last year's evaluation report noted the apparent support of the educational context for PRIME. To some degree, that remains true. But the feel is less solid. One important component, the New Standards Mathematics Reference Examination (NSMRE) provides solid support for the kinds of pedagogical and curricular changes that PRIME represents. And, to date, the NSMRE is in place and teachers and principals have begun to appreciate its demands. However, several key actors had to engage in a defense of this assessment system last year (including the Director of Mathematics) and, in part due to its cost, its long-term survival is still in question. Without this form of assessment, a major raison d'etre of PRIME is undermined.
Second, all of the support staff for the schools were reorganized, again, in the middle of last year. This move was, in fact, consonant with PRIME's approach, as it resulted in having content-specific specialists again assigned to particular schools. For a period of time prior to the reorganization, PRIME stood out as just about the only subject-matter specific support being offered to schools. Principals, especially, were grateful for the help and this helped PRIME progress. During this period, mathematics personnel in the Central Office did have to relinquish old job titles/responsibilities, and await the announcement of new ones, a disquieting process. While the reorganization had little specific effect on PRIME (except to underscore the correctness of decisions made by its leadership), it served as yet another in a series of upheavals in the life of the district.
Third, the new Superintendent of Schools has been in place one year at this time, but has been slow to articulate a mission or vision for the schools. His major preoccupation has appeared to be finding ways to cut a budget deficit. The School Board is an unusually contentious group, apparently more interested in micromanagement of the schools than in becoming the guarantor of quality education, system-wide. The local newspaper has offered both reportorial and editorial comment on these matters. Much attention and time was spent last year on a redistricting plan which would have the effect of diminishing integration/increasing segregation in many of the city's schools. This plan consumed those attending to educational issues, leaving little reflection left for core educational issues.
In the midst of all this, PRIME has proceeded, not simply in its own work, but also as a model for several other curricular areas which are currently developing proposals for funding parallel to those that were successful for PRIME. The project is seen as a steady and steadying source of support for teachers trying to upgrade their skills and knowledge and increase the learning of their students.
A major change in district policy was enunciated this past May when it was decreed that teachers may not leave their school buildings during school time, necessitating all professional development to be held after school or on Saturdays. Securing substitute teachers has been quite difficult and the decision to suspend day time professional development was attributed to this problem.