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:
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.
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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:
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:
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.
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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):
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THIS POSTER WAS PREPARED BY:
Judi Fonzi of the Making Mathematics Reform a Reality in Middle Schools project.