The University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education is on a mission to create and sustain a challenging mathematics program in high-need and high-poverty schools to fuel an interest and competency in STEM fields. The UR school recently received a $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to meet those aims.
Titled “Creating a Model for Sustainable Ambitious Mathematics Programs in High-Need Settings: A Researcher-Practitioner Collaboration,” the project builds on the Warner School’s partnership with East High School.
Led by Jeffrey Choppin, professor and chair of teaching and curriculum at the Warner School, the team will explore the linguistic, cognitive and participation challenges for students when implementing an ambitious math program in a high-need context.
With the help of researchers, professional development leaders, students, teachers, coaches and administrators, the group will work to understand the issues at hand and identify resources necessary to address the demands and sustain thought-provoking secondary mathematics programs in such settings.
“The project team will study the successful ambitious reform efforts of East’s mathematics program to develop a model that can be shared across other schools and districts in high-poverty settings that aim to challenge their students with a rigorous mathematics program,” Choppin says.
Typically, and in contrast to practices that science, technology, engineering and math majors and workers engage in, secondary students aren’t challenged to develop and communicate their own methods in solving demanding math problems. Ambitious math instruction, the Warner school claims, can lead to positive outcomes such as an increase in the number of students taking advanced STEM courses and competency in core STEM practices.
At East, the Educational Partnership Model has witnessed success in advanced mathematics courses. Grades 6-8 have experienced gains in scores at Level 2 and above on state assessments, from 19 percent in 2014-15 to 36 percent in 2018-19. At the East Upper School, grades 9-12, the on-time Regents passage rates have more than doubled in mathematics and the graduation rate has improved from 33 percent in 2015 to 77 percent this year, officials say.
It is widely known that students who come from high-poverty, high-need schools are underrepresented in STEM careers and academics. Researchers across the nation have been working on ways to reduce achievement gaps. Some have found high-quality active learning, when implemented appropriately, can narrow the divide in STEM courses and promote equity.
Choppin’s team believes its work has the opportunity to broaden access for students who are in communities currently marginalized in STEM fields. The project will include a literature review, interviews, document analysis and observations of mathematics classes. Participants will be key stakeholders at East, including students, teachers, instructional support personnel, and administrators, the Warner School says.
The grant’s final year—it spans four years—will involve a national group of educators to discuss and refine the model before it is distributed through research publications, journals and other routes. The work also will be shared at national meetings and a conference with mathematics instructional leaders and school administrators from high-need settings nationwide.
The final version will be offered as a digital workbook for school administrators interested in transforming mathematics programs in high-need districts.
“Our goal is to take what we learn at East to support educators working in other high-need settings to implement and sustain ambitious reform efforts to broaden STEM participation to include historically marginalized students,” Choppin says.
In a 2017 report, ACT, which assesses college readiness, called the U.S. a STEM-deficient nation. Its challenge to states by the end of 2022: “Double the number of STEM-oriented public- private dual enrollment partnerships in order to provide needed—and equitable—access to STEM instruction, especially for rural and urban students who lack the access of their suburban peers.’
The Warner School’s work could be one step in that direction.
Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.