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Annual Report Overviews


Making Math Reform a Reality Annual Overview

submitter: Making Mathematics Reform a Reality in Middle Schools
published: 11/30/1999
posted to site: 12/03/1999
Making Mathematics Reform a Reality in Middle Schools (ESI-95)
University of Rochester -- Raffaella Borasi (PI)

PART I -- Annual Overview

This 3 1/2 year LSC project was 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 ended up serving a total of about 80 teachers involved in math instruction at the four sites (which included special education and elementary teachers as well as certified mathematics teachers). At each site, a mathematics teacher educator acted 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 received additional training to develop capacity for this role.

This LSC project was also enhanced by a concurrent D.D. Eisenhower higher education grant from the New York State Department of Education (#0132-97-0054). This funding supported an added teacher preparation component and professional development efforts for represenatives 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.).

Given that this was the last year of the project, professional development offerings were more limited than in previous years. These initiatives included: a repeat of the Introductory Summer Institute (40 hours) intended to introduce all new participants to school mathematics reform; six "Mini-series" (10-15 hours each) focusing on the teaching of specific math topics, offered over the course of the school year; 16 "Study groups" (5-10 hours each), each involving a peer-facilitated small group of teachers from the same school and focused on planning an innovative unit (usually a unit from the Connected Math series); a few "ad-hoc" professional development experiences designed to respond to specific needs at the project, school and/or individual level; and, the continuation of monthly meetings of a Leadership Seminar involving all lead teachers and school facilitators (for a total of 32 hours). The great majority of this professional development was intended to prepare participants to implement some specific innovative units in their classrooms.

The extent of teachers' participation in professional development met and even exceeded expectations in three of the four target schools (#1, #3 & #4). In these three schools, teachers involved in mathematics instruction (including those who left and/or were recently hired) received an average of 160-170 hours of professional development, with 33 teachers reaching the minimum of 130 hours of professional development (our of a target of 30). In the fourth school (#2) instead, due to a combination of lack of administrative support and conflicting district policies, we have achieved only an average of 79 hours of professional development, with only 5 of the targeted 14 teachers reaching a minimum of 130 hours. It is worth noting that, overall, the project ended up serving a total of 83 teachers for an average of 126 hours each, while its budget had been determined by a target number of 44 "full participants" (i.e., teachers who would receive a minimum of 130 hours of professional development). project-wide, 7 lead teachers were trained and received an average of over 350 hours of professional development.

These professional development initiatives, combined with the efforts of school facilitators and lead teachers to promote instructional innovation and systemic reform in their school, has led to considerable changes in mathematics instruction in three of the four schools (#1, #3 and #4). At the end of year 3, the percentage of innovative mathematics instruction in these schools ranged from 27% to 51% (as measured in terms of weeks in the school year when "innovative units" were implemented) -- a significant result considering that it represented an increase of 50-300% compared to similar statistics collected at the end of year 1 of the project, and that none of these schools had been in the position to adopt any of the NSF-funded curricula at the start of the project.

Systemic reform efforts and outcomes differed considerably across the four schools, due to their unique histories and circumstances. During the last year of the project, three schools (#1, #3 and #4) have made the commitment to adopt Connected Mathematics schoolwide, at least partially -- a significant achievement, espeically since it did notresult from a top-down administrative decision. In two of these schools (#1 and #3), considerable progress has already been made in implementing this curriculum in both regular, blended and accelerated classes. Two schools (#1 & #4) -- those with a longer history of involvement in mathematics reform and with a functioning team of two lead teachers each -- have successfully developed a culture of collaborative practice, where math teachers regularly engage in shared professional development experiences (especially peer-facilitated "study groups"_, planning common units, and engaging in discussions about curriculum and/or teaching practices. Some progress in that direction was also made in School #3, especially over the last year of the project. Progress has been much more limited and slow in School #2, where a number of circumstances impeded systemic changes that went beyond improving the knowledge and practices of some individual teachers. All four schools, however, have developed some leadership capacity in the lead teachers trained by the project, and have made efforts to involve teachers from other schools in the district in professional development and reform efforts. With the exception of School #2, we believe that the other schools will be able to continue their progress towards school mathematics reform even after the project funding ends, given the curriculum decisions, leadership capacity and collaborative practices they developed.

Despite these overall positive outcomes, we have identified several obstacles that LSC projects should be aware of in order to maximize their effectiveness. We experienced a high degree of teaching and staff mobility, which presented considerable challenges both for meeting NSF expectations in terms of professional development and for sustaining reform efforts. We found it difficult to recruit special education and elementary teachers to professional development focusing on mathematics only, although we continue to believe that this kind of professional development is especially critical for these teachers. NSF and school funds were 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; most participants and project staff felt it necessary to volunteer additional time during the three years of the project, which often made them overwhelmed and frustrated, thus leading to the realization that such efforts could not be sustained over the long haul. Support from the school and district administration fell short of expectations in all four schools. A union grievance initiated in Year 1 in School #3 had long terms negative effects in that school that went beyond what we had anticipated.