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STEM Teacher Knowledge in the Common Core Era: Building the Standards for Mathematical Practice into Professional Development

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Kevin McLeod

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Background
The Milwaukee Mathematics Partnership (MMP) comprises the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), and the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC). As an initiative of the Milwaukee Partnership Academy, a community-wide PK-16 collaborative, the MMP began in fall 2003 with a five-year $20 million award from the NSF Mathematics and Science Partnership program. The MMP involves mathematics and mathematics education faculty in collaboration with PK-12 educators in building the capacity of schools for continuous improvement toward student success with challenging mathematics.

The work of the MMP is grounded in the acknowledgement that continuous growth in students’ mathematics achievement is heavily dependent on quality and consistency across teachers and mathematics programs within schools. For the school to be successful, there must be a common vision of mathematics learning, aligned to state standards, district learning targets, and accountability expectations. Specifically, the MMP has embraced four major goals in order to improve student achievement:

(1) Comprehensive Mathematics Framework: Implement and utilize the Comprehensive Mathematics Framework to lead a collective vision of deep learning and quality teaching of challenging mathematics.
(2) Distributed Leadership: Institute a distributed math leadership model that engages all partners and is centered on school-based professional learning communities.
(3) Teacher Learning Continuum: Build and sustain the capacity of teachers, from initial preparation through induction and professional growth, to understand mathematics deeply and use that knowledge to improve student learning.
(4) Student Learning Continuum: Ensure all students, PK-16, have access to, are prepared and supported for, and succeed in challenging mathematics.

With Wisconsin’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the MMP is working to ensure that educators across the district and the state understand that effective mathematics teaching involves careful attention to the Standards for Mathematical Practice, and to strengthen teacher understanding of the mathematics (both Content and Practices) in the CCSS—not just which topics are to be taught, or at which grade level, but how the CCSS expect teachers and students to understand and reason about these topics.

Essential to the MMP approach has been the development of teacher leadership for mathematics. The school-based Math Teacher Leaders (MTL) participate in monthly seminars that (1) increase their mathematics content knowledge, (2) deepen their understanding and use of formative assessment practices, and (3) develop their leadership skills. These seminars are developed and facilitated by teams of district Math Teaching Specialists (MTS) in collaboration with university mathematics and mathematics education faculty and staff. The MTLs draw upon the knowledge and skills developed in their monthly training and bring those resources to their school-based learning teams and to teachers and staff in the schools. The steady growth and development of these individuals as leaders over the years is a hallmark of the success of the MMP. In addition, the cadre of district Math Teaching Specialists has evolved as critical to our success. They are responsible for leading district-wide MMP initiatives and for providing school-based support to Math Teacher Leaders, Learning Teams, and school staffs.

Documented Results
Since the inception of the MMP, students in the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) have increased their mathematics achievement on the annual Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE), and also narrowed the achievement gap between the district and the state. The figure (see Program Description- pg. 8) shows the increase in proficiency in mathematics from 2005 to 2010 for all students in grades tested (grades 3-8 and grade 10); the disaggregated data show that all MPS subgroups demonstrated increased achievement over this same time period. Moreover, a study carried out by the MMP in 2009 concluded that schools more involved with the MMP over time demonstrated greater student proficiency on the 2008 WKCE, and higher student achievement growth from 2005 to 2008.

Over and above these measurable results, however, has been a change in the culture of mathematics teaching and learning in the district as a result of the MMP. This change can be illustrated with a quote (one of many that could have been chosen) from a middle school MTL:

    Before I came into this position as MTL, no one at my school was taking time to study school mathematics. Math was never discussed. Math instruction was very different in every classroom. … It is now common to find a grade-level team studying math lessons and planning instruction, or sharing student math work and discussing what they notice about the work as evidence of student math understanding.

Potential Applications
The MMP has developed many resources over the years, including professional development materials, classroom assessments and assessment tools, and a Continuum of Professional Work for Mathematics, which became an important tool for guiding and directing the work of Math Teacher Leaders in the schools, and for having conversations with administrators and school learning teams. These materials and tools are widely applicable in teacher professional development settings, or to guide in-school conversations, and may easily be adapted as required to suit local needs.

For More Information
All materials developed by the MMP are available on the MMP website, mmp.uwm.edu. Alternatively, you may contact the current session’s presenters, Kevin McLeod (kevinm@uwm.edu) and Hank Kepner (kepner@uwm.edu), or DeAnn Huinker (huinker@uwm.edu, MMP Principal Investigator) with any questions or requests for materials.