I love math and love teaching math. I taught math at an elementary/middle school in Chicago and at the Baraka School in Kenya. What I really love are fractions, especially when cooking and doubling recipes. Fractions are handy, tangible and practical.
The recent data from the 2022 Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program (MCAP) scores for Maryland public schools as well the nationally administered National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) revealed, though, that many students struggle in math. Every Baltimore Curriculum Project (BCP) school has had success in math, and every school has talented teachers, but our success rates are inconsistent. On the 2022 Measure of Academic Progress in math, we had some BCP schools which greatly exceeded their projected growth in math, while other BCP schools were well under projected growth.
We’re not alone. As the nation’s schools come out of the pandemic, standardized test scores have fallen across Maryland and for nearly every state for math. Our schools mostly followed Maryland trends: improved performance in ELA passing rates and lower performance for math.
We’re using the MCAP scores and our knowledge and expertise of how children learn best to improve our math curriculum and teaching to create the best pedagogy and outcomes for our students.
A New Math Initiative for BCP
At the December 2022 BCP board meeting, the Education committee presented some thoughts and led a spirited discussion on math instruction nationally and in BCP schools. Currently, each of our six schools teaches the same reading program—our teachers are like neurosurgeons when it comes to reading. And we all use Restorative Practices in our schools.
Our math program is a different story. Each school uses a variety of math curricula and traditional and digital resources to teach math. There is no set math instruction program used across the BCP network.
Every math teacher employs research-based direct instruction methods to teach math—and our math teachers are effective teachers, absolutely—but we’ve not found a standard math curriculum yet that has the kind of evidence of effectiveness that our reading program does.
Reading programs have a great deal of data on their efficacy. That kind of data is not there for math programs. Our experienced math teachers have learned to teach math well, no matter what tools are in their hands. That’s very valuable, but it’s hard to train and support.
To address these critical teaching and learning challenges, we’ve created a Math Committee of 17 BCP math teachers, academic coaches and three consultants from across our six schools (see below for names and schools). This group of experts is tasked with examining the current BCP math instruction training, support and practices to create a plan for improving our math instruction and outcomes. While we work in partnership with City Schools, as a charter-school operator, we have autonomy over our own curriculum to meet the needs of our students.
Our first meeting on March 24 felt like a meeting of the math fan club. Each of these 17 educators loves math as much as I do and is deeply committed to helping our students, PK through 8th grade, love math and excel at it.
Stacy Hicks, the academic coach for Pre-K through 2nd grade at City Springs Elementary / Middle School, spoke of her excitement of using math concepts to solve problems in different ways—a life skill that math offers our students. For Ashley Green, who has taught math at Wolfe Street Academy for 13 years, she loves connecting math (and, yes, fractions) to the real world for her students.
Our teachers have the passion and skills to teach math. What they lack is a better plan for teaching math that is shared across BCP.
Take-aways from BCP’s First Math Committee Meeting
Our first meeting of the Math Committee was another spirited discussion about the need for a shared, single program across our schools. When I took an inventory of programs used in our schools, there were six core curricula and several other computer based support programs.
Here are a few of the issues we discussed:
- There’s not a perfect math tool out there. No curriculum is going to solve everything. In the end what matters most is teachers understanding how to teach the standards and how to help students fill in gaps.
- Often in math classes, there are 25 students with 25 different levels of knowledge which teachers must address. We have highly effective teachers who can create the kind of personalized math interventions students may need. Some of our teachers need more training and support to teach math at that level—and time to plan lessons.
- Giving our teachers a big picture of a differentiated math sequence across the grades is essential. Showing the resources our teachers are currently using is also important.
- Teaching in many ways should be a trade school. We need a clear plan to help teachers understand how to plan math lessons, how to differentiate and how to deliver instruction that’s meaningful and helpful and then go back through those reflection cycles to ensure that they are meeting the students’ needs, either taking it farther or filling in gaps. No existing math curriculum covers this.
Math Committee Objectives
Over the next several months and throughout the summer, the Math Committee is tasked with reviewing the numerous math programs we are currently using. Our first task will be to survey all BCP our math teachers to determine their strengths and weaknesses in teaching math. This data will help us determine how and where we can do better teaching math.
This summer, the Committee will do a deep dive into the collected data and research to determine where BCP wants to go for its standard math program. Once we develop recommendations, we will create a pilot program with a small group of volunteer teachers this fall. We will also develop a training and professional development plan for 2023-24 to ensure that our math teachers have the support they need to help students master math.
BCP is a Trusted Innovator for Curriculum
This work is exciting as we can forge together as educators and colleagues a new program for our students. It’s also a task well within the BCP wheelhouse. In 1996, we pioneered Direct Instruction with City Schools. This proven, research-based program that uses carefully scripted lessons, backed by texts and workbooks. DI is consistently rated as one of the most effective comprehensive school reform models.
Our teachers are experts in using DI to help students attain reading and writing skills beyond their current grade level in a relatively short amount of time. For more information visit the National Institute for Direction Instruction.
In 2014, we piloted the Core Knowledge Language Arts for City Schools, which ensures students are well prepared when they transition from learning to read to reading to learn.
The key to our reading program’s success has always been teacher training and support. Our teacher training and support is top tier. Each of our schools has at least one full-time teacher’s coach, a summer training institute and ongoing professional development throughout the year. There are two teachers in each school’s classrooms for the youngest grades (Pre-K-2nd), and special educators push in/pull out students per their IEP, and ESOL teachers support classroom instruction and teach small groups for targeted skill development.
We are excited about the work ahead to make sure that our students are mastering math skills and concepts. For me, the thought of having schools filled with students who love math as much as I do—and as much as their math teachers do—is thrilling.
Thank you to our BCP math experts on the Math Committee (below). I look forward to sharing our new strategies in the months ahead.