- The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) has received a five-year, $4.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation to design and implement a professional development (PD) initiative focusing on K-8 Common Core math standards.
- While most PD efforts tend to involve teachers or administrators, this initiative will target teachers, teacher leaders and district administrators with the goal of overcoming barriers that often limit instructional improvements.
- The Elementary Mathematics Leadership initiative will involve four school districts in the southern part of Cook County, Illinois — Ridgeland School District 122, Oak Lawn-Hometown School District 123, Alsip Hazelgreen Oak Lawn School District 126 and Chicago Ridge School District 127.5. School- and district-level personnel will also participate in designing the intervention to make sure it meets their individual district’s needs.
“Past efforts to improve K-8 math instruction have typically failed to travel across or between these different levels, thus inhibiting the potential for instructional improvement to take root,” Alison Castro Superfine, a UIC professor of mathematics education and learning sciences — and the project leader — said in a press release.
Even well-designed PD efforts can fall short if the right support isn’t in place. “Researchers have found that willing teachers are sometimes unable to implement professional development practices due to obstacles that are beyond their control,” according to a 2017 report from the Learning Policy Institute at Stanford University.
One of those obstacles is the “lack of a shared vision about what high-quality instruction entails,” the authors wrote.
Districts have made considerable efforts in recent years to give teachers more choice over PD. But experts say it’s still important to balance personalization with district-wide PD goals and a structure in which teachers can choose from high-quality options connected to districts’ instructional priorities.
This new initiative also builds on previous work at UIC to strengthen administrators’ skills to support math instruction. During the Suburban Cook County Mathematics Initiative, which involved 32 districts, school- and district-level administrators participated in PD “with a goal of developing a community of administrators who have the knowledge and tools to support continuous improvement in mathematics and high-quality mathematics instruction,” according to a description of the project.
Outcomes of the work included a cross-district performance assessment and teachers enrolling in university courses to work toward a middle grades math endorsement or a master’s degree in math. “Many respondents indicated that they now regularly discuss and collaborate with their colleagues about mathematics teaching and learning, which is a significant increase in collaboration related to mathematics since their participation in the project,” according to the summary.