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Middle School Mathematics Standards - (MS)2 Project Annual Report Overview

published: 12/07/2000
posted to site: 12/07/2000
Middle School Mathematics Standards - (MS)2 Project

Middle School Mathematics Standards - (MS)2 Project

New Visions for Public Schools

Excerpt from Annual Report 2000

Major Activities

The Middle-School Math-Standards Project, (MS)2,, is a local systemic change teacher-enhancement project of New Visions for Public Schools in collaboration with the New York City Board of Education and the City College of New York. (MS)2 supports systemic reform of mathematics teaching, learning, and performance assessment in thirty-five middle schools, in conjunction with the New York City Board of Education’s adoption of the New Standards in mathematics. The overarching goal of the (MS)2 project is to change the way in which New York City teachers teach mathematics, in order to significantly improve the mathematics learning experience for all middle school students.

Four of New York City’s most disadvantaged community school districts participate in (MS)2 : CSD #5 in Central Harlem, CSD #9 in the South Bronx, CSD #13 in Bedford Stuyvesant, and CSD #19 in East New York. An important focus for the (MS)2 project is teachers’ collaborative learning, and the centerpiece of the project is the generation and support of biweekly, school-based mathematics study groups, led by specially trained teacher leaders. All teachers receive stipends and/or release time for their participation in the study groups.

During the project’s first year, 47 teacher-led, school-based study groups were created among the majority of project schools. School-based study groups are the (MS)2 vehicle for reaching every mathematics teacher in the four participating districts. The number of study groups exceeded the number of participating schools because some schools required multiple study groups due to the large number of mathematics teachers in the building and to provide teachers with scheduling options.

Teacher leaders received intensive training to organize and facilitate study groups during the school year.

(MS)2 teacher leaders were prepared and consistently supported through on-going professional development offered during the annual Summer Institute and monthly teacher leader seminars held during the school year. Four content strands were covered during each professional development session: mathematics content, mathematics pedagogy, mathematics standards and leadership. Mathematics equity and the use of newly adopted curricula were integrated throughout each strand. Teacher leaders received graduate credit in mathematics and mathematics education or a stipend as incentive for participating in the professional development sessions. Teacher leaders also shared information and ideas across study groups on-line over the course of the school year.

School-based mathematics study groups concentrated on three areas: mathematics content, implementation of exemplary mathematics curriculum, and student work. The work of each study group was reinforced by district level coordinators who maintained consistency across the study groups, and visited mathematics specialists with expertise in mathematics, exemplary middle school curricula, and instructional practice.

In the beginning of the school-year, study group sessions were disjointed and did not build on each other, nor provided opportunities for teachers to reflect on their own classroom practice. Subsequently, during the monthly teacher leader sessions, the Academic Director, worked with teachers to develop goals and objectives for the study groups that focused on improving classroom practice. As a result, the quality of study group sessions began to change mid-year and became more relevant to teachers’ attempts to implement exemplary curriculum.

Many teachers view the study group as a valuable learning experience because the mathematics specialists have been instrumental in maintaining group progress and growth in teacher learning of mathematics and curriculum implementation. The mathematics specialists have also provided direct classroom support to the teachers by modeling and demonstrating lessons in teachers’ classrooms and/or observing classroom lessons and giving constructive feedback.

Active principal support has also ensured study group success. During year one, project schools with active support from school principals had higher rates of study group attendance. Active principal support took many forms including scheduling study group meetings during the school day; attending study group meetings as a participant; emphasizing the importance of study groups to teachers; and/or arranging presentations by study group members during faculty conferences. The program introduced a one day training for school principals during the 2000 Summer Institute. Sessions for principals will continue throughout the school year during principals’ retreats and conferences.

In addition to the five-day annual Summer Institute, the project introduced a mathematic content course during the summer entitled Mathematics for the Middle School Teacher: Course 1 - Number Sense and Operation. The mathematics content course was developed in response to the need for teacher leaders and teachers in the program to increase their knowledge and understanding of mathematics. The course is open to any teacher in the program and corresponds to the middle school mathematics strand identified in the NCTM Principles and Standards for School Mathematics. The two-week course provided a rigorous examination of mathematics content in a standards-based environment, emphasizing problem-solving, mathematical reasoning, communication, connections and representations. Teachers receive three graduate credits in mathematics from City College. New Visions expects to continue offering these type of instructional, content-based mathematics courses throughout the project.


Project Findings

Based on consultant reports, an external evaluation report, feedback from monthly meetings with the district mathematics coordinators, and teacher surveys, New Visions has found that consistent professional development offered during the project has contributed to the emergence of these initial findings:

  • Teachers required considerable support in deepening mathematics content knowledge. The exemplary instructional materials and professional development based on conceptual understanding and mathematical reasoning have uncovered weaknesses in mathematics content knowledge even in fundamental concepts (e.g., dividing fractions).
  • The process of teacher change characterized by the research literature is reflected in these early stages of the program. During the first year of the project, teachers needed to resolve the dissonance between their own mathematics background, and learning and practicing standards-based mathematics teaching.
  • The program’s professional development materials have been disseminated more widely than anticipated. Project participants use the materials and activities from the professional development sessions in a variety of settings (e.g., articulation with elementary teachers; all-day staff development). The information on mathematics content and math equity has been shared the most.
  • Each school’s capacity to create and maintain study groups varies. Some schools required more support than others in identifying teacher leaders and organizing study groups. Several approaches were utilized to increase the capacity of schools to form and sustain mathematics study groups including study group facilitation by district staff developers, and "buddying" schools together.
  • The pool of teacher leader candidates who met the criteria for teacher leader selection in the four participating districts was limited. In response, the project encouraged schools to create teams of teacher leaders so experienced teachers could work with less experienced teachers.
  • Schools with active support from principals had higher rates of study group participation. The project developed a principals component, which will begin in year two and will increase administrative support at project schools.
  • The various professional development components (summer institute, monthly seminars and study group sessions) served as learning communities for teachers. As stated by the project evaluator: "The professional development was also effective in creating a safe environment for teacher leaders to share ideas, strategies, and problems and get support from peers" (Moore, 2000, p. 1).
  • In the early stages of the project, initial evidence suggested that the study groups possessed the potential to effect change on school culture. For example, at one middle school (District 9, South Bronx) social studies teachers asked their principal if they could have a study group; and a principal in District 19 (East New York) arranged for every teacher across subject areas to participate in the mathematics study group.
  • The project has contributed to a sense of community among the participating districts. District level staff worked as a team across districts by sharing information and in some cases conducting workshops across districts.

The project contributed to the development of middle school teacher leaders in four of the most disadvantaged community school districts in New York City. "The (MS)2 project activities were effective in the first year of the project in incorporating content that was relevant to developing and meeting the needs of emerging teacher leaders" (Moore, 2000, p. 1). Many of these teacher leaders represent underserved populations and are reflective of the diversity of the New York City student population. Sixteen of the teacher leaders have elected to receive graduate course credit in mathematics and mathematics education offered by the program. These credits can be used for advancement in the system or as transfer credit to graduate-degree programs.

The program is also contributing to the professional development of district staff which is especially critical in the districts with new administrations. Nurturing teacher leadership in mathematics education at the school and district levels builds district and school capacity to engage in mathematics reform and ensures sustainability of change. In addition, as a result of the high teacher turnover rates in the districts, New Visions is creating teams of teachers to represent the schools in this project. This structure will ensure that there are always experienced teachers participating in the project.