Highlights of Practices Worthy of Attention Local Innovations in Strengthening Secondary Mathematics Pamela L. Paek, Ph.D. Senior Research Associate S tates and districts are looking for practices and strategies that can help them do their work more effectively. As one powerful example, the Urban Mathematics Leadership Network1, which currently includes mathematics leaders from 18 major urban school districts, is engaged in identifying innovative practices that show promise of improving secondary mathematics teaching and learning and that specifically address district-level needs. The overarching challenge for schools and districts is how to organize educationally productive support for teachers and students in complex educational systems. Given the current democratization of access to advanced mathematics courses, teachers must engage a far more diverse group of students in their classrooms than ever before. This challenge emanates from the fact that we now require almost all students to take advanced mathematics courses that once were the province of a privileged few. Schools and districts must create support systems that enable a very demographically and academically diverse population of students to master demanding academic content. The solutions to this challenge require work at the district, school, department, and classroom levels. In 2006–2007 the Dana Center conducted a national search for innovative practices in urban schools and districts that show promise of increasing student learning in secondary mathematics. We call these practices worthy of attention, and we found 22 programs, schools, and districts with such practices. Our first step in our practices worthy of attention work was to spend time with practitioners in each school or district to surface the theory of action behind the practice and to document its implementation and the evidence of its effectiveness thus far. We wanted to portray interesting local practices that we believe have merit and that practitioners have invested considerable energy in developing and implementing, honor those practices, and provide practitioners with feedback that would give them an outside perspective on their ideas and efforts. Ultimately, our practices worthy of attention work has four overarching goals: 1. To better understand innovative practices—in particular settings—that show promise of improving secondary mathematics teaching and learning and mark these practices for further development and scientific inquiry. 2.To identify common themes across these practices that can be used to strengthen student achievement in urban education systems across the country. 1 The UMLN is a partnership between the Dana Center and Achieve, Inc. A joint initiative of Achieve, Inc. and The Charles A. Dana Center at The University of Texas at Austin 3. To aid practitioners in strengthening their work by providing them with research support to help them more rigorously evaluate how well these practices are working. advanced mathematics courses and providing necessary support for students in those courses, and embedding intense student support in the daily schedule. 4. To select especially effective practices and reengineer them for use at scale. • The full study, available at www.utdanacenter.org/pwoa, presents an executive summary, two cross-case analyses, and profiles of the 22 identified program, school, and district practices. Defining Practices Worthy of Attention Practices worthy of attention differs from related work on “best practices” or “promising practices” in that it focuses on new practices—innovative efforts and ideas currently in development or early in their implementation. Starting with practices that have not yet been identified as “best” or “promising” through specific national criteria, such as those of the What Works Clearinghouse or the National Center for Educational Achievement, means that there is often little or no documentation of how a practice is being implemented, and scarce evidence of the practice’s effectiveness. These practices do, however, resonate with leading urban mathematics education practitioners, and are therefore likely to spread. It is thus especially important to subject these practices to rigorous scientific scrutiny. Results The 22 practices worthy of attention address two specific challenges: 1. how to raise student achievement and improve student learning in secondary mathematics and 2. how to increase teacher capacity to help students master challenging mathematics content. Raising Student Achievement The schools and districts profiled in this section have focused particularly on academic intensification strategies to help students meet higher expectations. Academic intensification strategies include expecting higher levels of achievement for all students and providing targeted and intense support to help students master the content of challenging courses. The academic intensification strategies we observed include providing summer bridge programs, requiring 2 Raising student achievement requires changes in the attitudes and practices of administrators, teachers, and students. In summer bridge programs like the Academic Youth Development Initiative (a Dana Center program) and Step Up to High School (a Chicago Public Schools program), students learn about the value of academic effort and build peer and teacher relationships that will support them throughout high school. These two programs are not remedial; they focus instead on developing problemsolving skills that form a foundation for success in Algebra I. They also build supports for a more productive academic culture in ninth-grade Algebra courses. Both programs also include communitybuilding components that introduce and reinforce ideas about how students learn and ensure that students entering ninth grade already know some teachers and peers and have developed a supportive academic network. To be effective, these programs require firm belief on the part of teachers that their students can succeed in high school mathematics and that collegial student peer groups can be a strong support for that success. • Requiring rigorous courses of all students demands a change in how districts and schools think about student ability, advising, and scheduling. Four sites profiled in this study set specific course-completion goals for their students and then backward-mapped the curriculum to better prepare students on the mathematical strands and topics they would later be required to know. Each site also found ways to support students and help them do well in the more advanced courses. Bellevue School District’s goal is for all students to pass Precalculus before high school graduation; El Paso Collaborative for Academic Excellence requires all students to complete Algebra II; Grant High School’s goal is for all students to pass Geometry by their sophomore year; and Norfolk Public Schools requires that all students pass Algebra I in eighth grade. • To meet higher expectations, districts and schools are embedding intense student supports in their daily schedules. Some small schools, like Eastside College Preparatory School, High Tech High, and YES College Preparatory School, build in such supports as a regular part of students’ schooling, to reinforce and model the idea that mathematics is important and that—with hard work and a strong network Highlights of Practices Worthy of Attention of teacher and peer support—all students can pass rigorous mathematics courses. Larger schools are challenged by high student-to-teacher ratios and thus use different strategies for embedding student support. For example, Evanston Township High School uses tutorial programs and extra time for mathematics instruction as part of its daily embedded student support structure. Building Teacher Capacity All the profiled practices designed to build teacher capacity provide opportunities for teachers to improve or diversify their current practices through focused interactions with other teachers and through access to innovative tools for teaching. The effective implementation of these teacher-capacity practices requires significant support from administrators, and this requires that administrators develop new sets of management skills. Just as teachers are tasked to enable students with more diverse experiences and backgrounds to succeed in rigorous courses, districts and schools must provide greater differentiated support for their teachers. The practices surfaced in our study fall into three broad categories: redefining mathematics teacher roles and responsibilities, making instruction public, and providing new, customizable tools for teaching. • With broadened roles and responsibilities, teachers are redefining how they think about teaching and the contributions they make to their students’ learning. In several districts, mathematics teacher work has been redefined to include responsibility for working with other school professionals to serve targeted subpopulations of students perceived to be at high risk of failure. In other districts, a significant number of mathematics teachers have responsibilities for broad district initiatives. Examples include initiatives that are building common assessments for use at the district level and initiatives focused on strategically improving district mathematics programming. In Denver Public Schools, mathematics teachers work closely with other school professionals who specialize in teaching students with special needs (i.e., those with individual education plans). New York City is implementing a well-developed strategy for crosstraining mathematics lead teachers with English language learner resource staff. In Portland Public Schools and Lamoille South Supervisory Union, mathematics teachers are working on district strategies for strengthening their core mathematics programs. In the Dana Center’s Partnership for High Achievement districts, leaders and teachers Highlights of Practices Worthy of Attention work together to communicate and sustain common goals with concrete steps for systemically improving classroom practices. • With instruction made public, teachers can work collaboratively to ensure that all students have access to a high-quality curriculum and can learn from each other using productive classroom strategies. Structured observation protocols and opportunities for feedback make teacher collaboration more productive than would be the case in informal collaborative settings. Among the sites we observed, three districts, one charter school, and one multidistrict initiative have made open classrooms a major part of their mathematics improvement plans. Bellevue School District provides common lessons and assessments for its teachers and requires teachers to post all assessment data on the district’s intranet. Columbus Public Schools has teachers observe each other with a structured observation protocol and provide feedback in weekly professional learning communities. Phoenix Union High School District standardized the goals and strategies of teaching and learning through Algebra I professional learning communities. YES College Preparatory School has a teacher evaluation system that provides feedback through structured observations by peers, supervisors, and coaches throughout the school year. The Silicon Valley Mathematics Initiative has coaches working frequently with teachers to improve their mathematics pedagogy. In all these sites, teachers learning from other teachers is increasingly common. • With new tools and customized support, teachers can access the individual training and feedback they need to make good practices part of their daily instruction. One program and three districts we studied provide customizable training to help teachers acquire new tools and strategies to improve their teaching practices. Agile Mind (in partnership with the Dana Center) is an education service, including an online tool, that supports and models sustainable teaching practices in a host of secondary mathematics courses (from middle school mathematics through AP Calculus). Anchorage School District developed its own Assessment Reporting System, a comprehensive database system that follows students longitudinally with all the data that was previously kept in their paper cumulative folders. Boston Public Schools’ secondary mathematics coaches have devised a new way of developing teacher capacity with an approach that the district calls asset-based instruction. Cleveland Municipal School District is showing its teachers 3 Next Steps The practices we have identified address challenges that virtually all American school districts must face. In too many cases, however, school districts create their solutions to these challenges from scratch and in isolation. Practices worthy of attention is designed to be a more effective approach to collaborative learning and to the dissemination of creative solutions to difficult educational problems. The next phase of this work includes partnering Dana Center researchers with selected schools and districts to raise the standards of evidence by which we measure the effectiveness of these practices and to extract the ideas that are key to reengineering them for use at scale. This new work will enable the fulfillment of another of our key purposes: focusing the attention of researchers on emerging practices in urban education and on the ways in which districts can respond most constructively to new policy directions and pressures. Practices Worthy of Attention is a joint initiative of Achieve, Inc. (www.achieve.org), and the Charles A. Dana Center at The University of Texas at Austin (www.utdanacenter.org). The initiative is led by Pamela L. Paek, a senior research associate at the Dana Center. An executive summary, two cross-case analyses, and the 22 profiles are available at www.utdanacenter.org/pwoa. 030608 An executive summary, two cross-case analyses, and the 22 profiles are available at the Dana Center website at www.utdanacenter.org/pwoa Each of the promising innovations surfaced in this project makes use of powerful ideas and practitioner insights to address the particulars of each school or district’s local environment. In making use of this work, practitioners will need to think about their own local circumstances and needs. The next step of our project is to choose the best of the practices we have found and, working with teams of practitioners, researchers, and designers, reengineer these practices for use at scale. This task requires that we develop a deep understanding, not only of the potential effect of an innovation on student performance, but of why the particular innovation has an effect. We need to understand why the ideas work, not just that they do work. This knowledge will enable us to build tools that can be customized and adapted for use in the widest range of settings. The practices worthy of attention should be viewed as existence proofs, giving confidence and hope to practitioners that the challenges they face can be solved in their districts. Our goal is not only to honor the work of particular practitioners, but to surface their insights in ways that are useful to other practitioners and to tool developers and program designers. The Charles A. Dana Center The University of Texas at Austin 2901 N. IH 35, Suite 2.200 Austin, TX 78722-2348 how to use assessment for learning techniques to adjust and customize instruction while it is taking place so that teachers can immediately address students’ learning needs.