Sustainability: Out-Live Out-Last Out-Reach
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Poster Presentation Full Text:
Choosing a Standards-Based Curriculum K-12: An innovative Model for Piloting

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

From the inception of this project, the vision of Reaching Every Teacher (RET) has been to create a culture of mathematical thinking and learning for both adults and children in the Waltham school district. For staff we hoped that this culture of thinking and learning would be reflected by ongoing collaboration by classroom teachers and school administrators in order to identify issues around classroom instruction and assessment. Teachers would continue to work together and with experts from both inside and outside of the school system to increase their content and pedagogical knowledge and engage in no-fault problem solving to better serve the children in the district. For the students, we hoped that mathematics instruction would be centered around a standards-based curriculum emphasizing problem solving across the grade levels. Instruction would provide students an engaging, challenging, and supportive classroom environment in which to build knowledge and communicate thinking effectively.


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

We have had some success in making this vision a reality. First, we have the commitment from the district's central administration to continue and expand the work on standards-based curriculum, instruction, and assessment. She has invested funding, time, and energy to encourage a systemic goal of high expectations for all students. Second, Reaching Every Teacher provided us with a cadre of teacher leaders, especially at the elementary level. Most of those teacher leaders are still active as mentors for new teachers and facilitators for teacher workshops. Third, the teaching population as a whole is clamoring for more grade-level and district-wide meetings so that they can meet with fellow teachers and discuss common issues.

Our biggest problem is finding the time to get teachers together to talk and share. A six and half hour work day and school year that is 182 days long does not provide the time to sustain ongoing professional development. Contractual issues and the critical shortage of substitute teachers has made it nearly impossible to continue the truly meaningful conversation that began during the RET program. We are finding find that teachers who were skeptical about the promises of the education reform movement throughout the Reaching Every Teacher program remain isolated in their classrooms and cling to traditional methods of teaching. Without the resources to continue the conversations about mathematical teaching and learning, there is no incentive for change. We need to open the classroom doors. We need to increase support for teachers in the classroom by creating a group of teacher-coaches who will work with teachers, model lessons and identify the important ideas in daily lessons. We need to build into the teacher contract incentives and time to meet regularly to discuss student learning. In short, to sustain change we need to provide an environment where the conversations about pedagogy and standards are an expectation. It is our feeling that this can only be done with a longer school year and a longer work-day for teachers.


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

One size doesn't fit all when it comes to K-12 professional development. There are some common topics that should be discussed; the definition of standards-based classrooms, alternative assessment, and equity. The cross grade-level discussions were valuable and we would continue them on a limited basis. However, The issues really are different at each grade level. At the elementary grade level we would concentrate on broadening and deepening teachers' content knowledge. The project evaluator noted in her report for the final year that "The LSC placed greater emphasis on introducing the new materials, familiarizing teachers with the lessons and making them feel comfortable about using them....As a consequence, the LSC did not create a mechanism to assess the extent to which teachers deepened their content knowledge as a result of professional development.." At the secondary level, the issue was not content knowledge. The secondary teachers were quite knowledgeable and comfortable with regard to mathematics. Perhaps they had become too comfortable. We needed to address effective pedagogy and learning styles more intensely. In the same report the evaluator said of secondary teachers, "Despite three years of professional development and experience in implementing reform materials in their classrooms, the prejudice against utilizing concrete, hands-on experiences with higher performing students persisted, as did the lower performing students' incapacity for abstract thinking and reasoning."

Also, It is extremely important to have the support of central administration and building principals. A superintendent who is indifferent will ultimately sabotage the sustainability of a project through neglect. As the intermediary between the project leaders and school committee, parents, and the public, the superintendent needs to be aware of and support the goals of the project. The superintendent is the person who will inform the public of how the mandate for change outlined by the education reform law is being met, and it is the superintendent who will provide the infrastructure for the project with the necessary resources for continuing professional development. These resources include funds, release time for teachers and meeting space. When a project succeeds, the data gathered and the lessons learned can provide leverage to the central administration to sustain reform in the district.

Similarly, school principals "set the tone" in a building. If the principal does not value the work being done by the LSC, then the project will fail within that school. It is important to include building level administrators in conversations about the goals of the project and convince them that the project will provide concrete benefits to the school. We found that creating correlation documents of the standards-based curricula to the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks helped convince principles that state assessment scores would improve by adopting appropriate new materials. It also helped to invite principals to the professional development workshops. By including the principals in the teachers' learning, they indicated that they better understood the changes that they were observing in classrooms.


Questions for other project's staff to reply to

Thomas Foley and Eileen Herlihy of the Reaching Every Teacher project.


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