Sustainability: Out-Live Out-Last Out-Reach
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Poster Presentation Full Text:
Thank goodness we got to do this again !

Poster presentations are composed in four parts:
  • Original goals for project sustainability under ideal conditions
  • Reflections on these goals from the end of the project funding cycle
  • Suggestions for projects starting out; or, how we might have done things differently
  • Questions for other project's staff to reply to


Original goals for project sustainability under ideal conditions

Now, in hindsight we know that we entered our LSC with SOME realistic goals, SOME unrealistic ones, and SOME impossible goals.

Before continuing it's important to know that we began our project in Fall 1996 (and actually wrote the proposal in Winter of 1995 !). Those were different times -very few people were aware that the NSF-funded curricula were being produced (including us), very few people were aware of the work being done to develop lead teachers (including us), and very few districts had ever heard of "systemic reform" (including ours) !

So - of course, we proposed a 3-year middle school mathematics systemic reform project to 4 local school districts.

We believed that if we could introduce the entire middle school math community to new pedagogical practices and new views of mathematics and support them to revise and refine their beliefs and practices through professional development and in-class support the middle school community would be able to develop, implement, and sustain an inquiry-based mathematics program. Though our goals were ambitious we believed they were attainable IF we provided each school community with intensive support during the project and also prepared school-based lead teachers to carry on after the project funding was over.

We identified our main goals and objectives to be:

  1. Develop a cadre of lead teachers in each district

  2. Introduce all middle school math teachers (6 - 8, special education, tutors) to teaching mathematics through inquiry

  3. Support all of these teachers to adopt and implement an inquiry-based instructional practice

  4. Provide the professional development that would support all these teachers to develop humanistic view of mathematics

  5. Support all of these teachers to develop a mathematics program which promoted a humanistic view of mathematics

  6. Introduce key members of the larger school community (administrators, counselors, parents, other teachers and community members) to learning math through inquiry

  7. Develop learning communities (within each school and across the districts) who collaborate on : teaching and learning; mathematics; curriculum; and lesson development and implementation

  8. Provide extensive ad hoc consulting to each of the school districts by assigning a member of the project staff to each of the districts as a "school facilitator"

We really weren't just 'pie in the sky ' idealists - we had some history !

Our LSC grew out of a previous 4-year NSF teacher enhancement/research project where we developed a very successful year-long professional development program that introduced 'volunteer' teachers to teaching mathematics through inquiry, provided supported field experiences to develop and implement inquiry units that were informed by a humanistic view of mathematics.


Reflections on these goals from the end of the project funding cycle

We essentially completed our LSC work with our districts 1 1/2 years ago. Before the end of the project our teachers once again requested that we develop a follow-up project to continue the work we had begun -no one felt we had completed all of the work that needed to be done yet !

Interestingly enough only 1 of our LSC districts ended up participating in our new DDE funded K-12 mathematics systemic reform project. This was a complete surprise to us and prompted us to reflect much more deeply on the issue of sustainability.

In all 3 cases the decision not to continue was made at the administrative levels. What, we wondered, made the administrators so powerful that the mathematics faculties - who had been working so hard to reform their practices and programs -didn't fight for participation in the new project. We identified 2 distinct, but not mutually exclusive, factors:

  1. how far the district had progressed towards developing a reformed program (including how important collaboration had become to the entire math faculty)
  2. the beliefs of the administration

During the life of the project there were major administrative changes in all four of our districts. In most cases the administrator who initially supported the participation in the LSC project was replaced (in three cases the principal was replaced and in three cases the Assistant Superintendent for Instruction was replaced). While these new administrators varied in their interest and support of the project they had little or no effect on the work being done. Project staff and lead teachers strategically planned meetings with the new administrators and kept them informed of what we were doing and why and this seemed to be enough to maintain 'project business a usual'.

However, administrative changes at the end of the funded project had very different effects. Our analysis revealed the following contributory factors:

  1. By the end of our 3 year funding cycle none of our districts had completely revised their practices or their mathematics programs (this of course was an unrealistic timeline in the first place !)
  2. Three out of 4 of the districts had firmly established collaborative cultures
  3. Some of the new administrators had beliefs and agendas in conflict with those informing mathematics reform
  4. Some of the new administrators lacked the interest or ability to promote continuing efforts towards mathematics reform

In our case we found that administrators' lack of interest or ability only presented a threat to sustainability when the faculty itself was still in a state of transition, i.e., all teachers had not yet bought into the need for reform by the time the project ended. When the whole faculty had developed a common vision and a collaborative culture a "weak" administrator did not inhibit continued work. In fact in one case it allowed the faculty to convince the district level administrators to participate in our new K-12 initiative thus not only sustaining reform but continuing to move forward. In a second case, while the middle school math faculty was not yet cohesive enough to fight the district level decision not to participate in the new K-12 initiative they had moved far enough along the continuum of reform to continue to work on their own. Since the end of the LSC project this district has adopted Connected Math as their 6-8 grade text for all middle school mathematics courses -- including their accelerated courses.

On the contrary, new administrators who make mathematics their agenda but have conflicting beliefs about teaching and learning (do not hold a constructivist view of learning), or about mathematics (align with "Mathematically Correct" or other limiting views of mathematics as a discipline), or are driven by test scores and a need to teach to the test pose a serious threat to sustainability no matter how far the faculty and program have come. We saw this in 2 cases.

The first was in a district that had come quite far in their efforts towards reform. Despite the fact that collaboration had become status quo --- all decisions were made as a team, all lessons were planned by grade level teams, and all professional development was attended by teams -- the fact that they had just adopted and purchased Connected Math as their primary text and the fact that the entire middle school math faculty and principal lobbied hard for participation in our new DDE project the new Assistant Superintendent refused. She cited a lack of funds. However, we later learned that the ASI had no interest in continuing any of the district's current agendas and as a result all of the department heads and our math lead teachers resigned their positions. In the case of math, the one teacher who was still resisting reform when the LSC project ended became the department chair (the lead teacher positions were eliminated) and the math faculty has once again become totally fractured.

In the second case, by the end of the LSC project the math faculty was still quite fractured -some were collaborating and trying new things in their classrooms with relative success, others were maintaining the old status quo. While the two groups weren't actively aggressive towards each other their separate views did not provide the interest and synergy necessary to take on the challenging task of reform. Therefore, when the Assistant Superintendent was invited to join the new K-12 program, despite the interest of some teachers and the support of all of the building level principals, she decided not to participate. Observing from afar, it seems that she had a motivation for stopping the efforts towards reform - the district's current mission is to replace the 8th grade math course with a traditional algebra course for all students.

Unfortunately, because our LSC funding was over and we had new funding and responsibilities to new districts, our LSC staff was not in a position to continue to support the 3 districts despite our desire to do so.


Suggestions for projects starting out; or, how we might have done things differently

We've had the luxury of "starting over". And we have benefited from both the passing of time and our own hindsight and that of others. While we entered the new K-12 systemic reform project with essentially that same beliefs and objectives as our LSC project our own practices have been quite different. We suggest the following (we think these are all equally important):

  1. While it is important to "push" teachers and administrators it is also important not to push too hard. As long as the district is moving in a positive direction learn to accept their pace.

  2. Work directly with district level administrators. Get them to make reforming mathematics their personal goal - they will move all the mountains when it is.

  3. From the very beginning identify stages of the reform process. Establish the fact that in the early stages teachers and community members need to develop a need for reform and a vision of what reform could look like; a comprehensive curricula needs to be adopted; teachers' need to reflect on their beliefs and practices; and, a collaborative culture needs to be developed. In later stages curricular adoption decisions need to be made; teachers need to learn and try out new teaching practices and new curricular materials; and, support needs to be provided to all teachers, administrators, parents, students, and community members.

  4. Districts must have a cadre of official leaders within their own ranks.

  5. Teacher leaders must see themselves as capable not only of carrying out initiative but of creating them. Thus, teacher leaders need to take responsibility for some of their own professional development as well as that of other teachers.

  6. Project staff needs to be continuously on-call to teachers and administrators to provide a sympathetic ear, provide input, help them make decisions, or work with a group (Board of Education, parents, etc.).

  7. Lead teachers need to develop strategies for working with colleagues, not just deeper knowledge about mathematics, teaching, learning, and reform.

  8. Develop a sense of interdependence by promoting collaborative work beyond planning for instruction. This collaboration can and should be within schools, within districts, across districts.


Questions for other project's staff to reply to