Recent work in the College and with colleagues in K12 and the local community college has resulted in focused attention on the idea that scarce resources in education are best used internally to work as a team, elementary to college (P20), to address problems we see as common. This idea is in contrast to the all too familiar approach of using these scarce resources to bring in some outside expert(s) to lead professionals through some prescribed course of action.
Below is an account of some of this thinking as we prepare to apply a partnership approach to developing deeper understandings and improving instructional skills for dealing with P20 student performance in mathematics.
The College is working in partnership with five regional school districts to address long standing educational problems. The partnership includes the K12 school districts, the local community college, and the College of Education and eventually the Mathematics Department. Our focus is on P20 mathematics instruction with specific attention to the achievement gap between ESOL students and the rest of the student population. The plan of work is to invest directly in the skills of the teachers, college faculty, and student teachers. The premise underlying our approach is that (a) working professionals in P20 have built considerable skills in their own educational settings enhanced by a variety of individual and corporate professional growth experiences, (b) the problems we seek to solve cannot be defined as belonging to educational level but are best described as embedded in a P20 continuum, and (c) working in partnership, elementary teachers through university faculty, we will be able to accomplish more toward solving the target problems.
Our thinking has been largely focused on developing a more fine-grained understanding of the classroom practices associated with high levels of student performance. Significant research exists on how to raise student performance in math by raising the skills of teachers to be able to perform instructional “moves” that engage students in productive and sustained talk that uses the target subject matter. Similarly, significant research exists on how to address ESOL student performance by recognizing and using their “funds of knowledge” and examining “language as action”. Research has demonstrated that teaching moves that cause students to talk in structured ways to each other or to the whole class create experiences that teachers can turn to good advantage for increasing student understanding. This research spans a number of decades involving instruction in reading and writing but work in the last 20 years has developed a tight focus on math teaching. Some resources are listed at the end of this entry.
Investing directly in time for professionals to learn and improve teaching skills seems to be the most cost effective way to improve the learning environment for students. Our partnership is reaching this conclusion for a number of reasons.
First, creating focused attention to local issues creates more agreement and buy-in by those most directly involved.
Second, long and often bitter experience has shown that bringing in outside “experts” often results in disconnected and unproductive “churning” or recycling of familiar ideas that never gain any new traction even if there is some reason to employ these ideas. The mindset of those on the receiving end of this “professional development” is that they are not and have not been involved in doing meaningful thinking about solutions. Professional development is being done TO them NOT WITH them.
Third, a P20 partnership approach is the way to keep each other focused on the problem and accountable to each other for making progress. The partnership keeps the members honest.
Fourth, any effort to make improvements and/or address problems requires collecting evidence. When outside experts are in charge, the data collection is often structured by some outside plan and presented to those who are working to make change. Often the data do not show much of a change but outside experts argue that progress takes time and justify the expense of their fees even as they are leaving with little being accomplished.
Fifth, a partnership approach to internal investment in change means that the partnership is responsible for sustaining effort. The partnership is responsible for defining meaningful evidence. The partnership is responsible for assessing real progress and the need for adjusting the approach.
Sixth, for the partnership to work, leaders internal to each member organization, come to “own” the problem and the approach. The leaders communicate the imperatives for action inside their own organization and build capacity for change and improvement. Leaders become the voice for concern, for help, and for offering new guidance to the partnership as a whole.
The list will likely grow as we gain more experience in carrying out our planned effort to change student performance in math and bring ESOL student achievement in line with rest of the student population.
For Further Reading:
Core to College Partnership (http://education.oregonstate.edu/core-college-partnership)
Mid-Valley Mid-Coast Partnership (http://blogs.oregonstate.edu/midvalleycoastlearn/)
Misconception Oriented Standards-based Assessment Resource for Teachers (http://mosart.mspnet.org/)
Oregon Mathematics Teacher Education Partnership (http://education.oregonstate.edu/oregon-mathematics-teacher-education-partnership-omtep)
Understanding Language (http://ell.stanford.edu)