CPS math, science initiative helps elementary schools at all levels

Print More

When CPS launched a new reading initiative 18 months ago, it picked low-performing schools to participate. For its new effort, the Chicago Math and Science Initiative, all elementary schools were eligible to apply.

“We wanted low, middle and higher performing schools, [as well as] math-science academies and schools that are different geographically,” says Suzanne Davenport, who oversees strategic planning for the initiative. “It was important to us that schools buy in to the initiative.”

Also, by using an opt-in model to recruit schools, CPS is looking for schools to commit to creating long-lasting change, notes Davenport.

More than 200 schools applied, and 133 were chosen. They range from Nash in Austin, where only 20 percent of students score at or above national norms in math, to Keller Magnet in Mount Greenwood, with 96 percent at or above math norms.

One better scoring school, Trumbull Elementary in Edgewater, is looking to boost stagnant math scores.

“Our math scores are good, but they haven’t risen in the last three years,” says Principal Robert Wilkin. “This is an opportunity for us to move to another level.”

And while more better performing schools are being served through this initiative, Davenport says the process is fair. “We wanted to create schools that other schools can learn from and model,” she explains.

The initiative is slated to accept 50 additional schools a year with a goal of serving 275 schools in five years.

In choosing inaugural participants, CPS paid special attention to schools where principals, teachers, local school councils, parents and community members have a track record of working well together.

Davenport notes that research on Chicago schools has shown a strong correlation between improvement in achievement and a collaborative school and community environment. Much of this research was done by Designs for Change, where she previously worked.

The initiative is funded in part by an $11 million grant over five years from the National Science Foundation. The annual cost of the program is $15 million, which covers salaries for 78 specialists and 27 central office staff, materials, professional development and stipends for teachers.

UIC expert hired

Last September, CPS created the Office of Mathematics and Science and tapped Martin Gartzman of the University of Illinois at Chicago to head it. Gartzman, a co-founder of UIC’s Institute for Math and Science Education, was charged with developing a districtwide program to improve math and science instruction. He was hired by Chief Education Officer Barbara Eason-Watkins, whom he had helped improve math instruction at McCosh Elementary when she was principal there.

In February, Gartzman and his staff sent out a request for proposals (RFPs) to every elementary school principal, asking them to choose either math or science as a focus and one of the nine recommended curricular programs.

Schools were selected based on their level of collaboration and commitment to implementing the initiative. CPS looked at budgets, school improvement plans, school culture and location. Each of the district’s 18 elementary instructional areas is represented. Finalists were then sorted into two groups.

Schools slated for full participation in year one of the initiative were deemed “intensive support” schools. These 84 schools were judged to have a history of staff collaboration, where teachers, the principal and the local school council all agreed to use the initiative’s approved instructional materials.

The rest were placed in the “readiness support” group, and will spend a year preparing to become “intensive” schools. These schools showed interest in improving math and science instruction, but did not have the same level of staff buy-in or collaboration.

“All three groups—teachers, the LSC and the principal—were not on the same page,” Davenport explains. “But there was still enough interest that the school applied.”

The initiative also will include revamping subject area assessments, encouraging middle school teachers to get endorsed in math and science, and adapting curricula for special education.

Extra money, support

Intensive schools will get the full treatment next fall: In-depth professional development for teachers and administrators, $1,000 for each participating classroom to pay for research-based curricula and an on-site math or science specialist for two years.

One teacher in each grade will receive training in the selected curriculum the school plans to implement in the fall; the rest of the faculty will follow suit during the second year. The training will be conducted by the companies that developed the selected curricular program.

About a third of these schools chose to focus on science, having demonstrated that strong math programs were already in place, an initiative requirement. CPS also will train school staff in how to facilitate school change and peer coaching.

Concentrated professional development was a big attraction for some schools in the intensive track. “My forte is not math, it’s language,” says Bernadette Butler, principal of Agassiz Elementary in Lakeview. While intensive schools receive training in their selected curriculum, readiness schools will be trained in the basics of math and science content and pedagogy. Then, they will select curriculum and will be converted to intensive schools in the fall 2004.

Last month, readiness schools sent five-member teams, consisting of principals, LSC members and teachers, to the Teachers Academy for Mathematics and Science (TAMS) to begin year-long training.

All CPS schools will be required to increase their math instruction time to 60 minutes per day from the current 40, and their science instruction to 150 minutes per week from 120. Also, area coaches will help schools develop teacher leadership teams and encourage them to adopt one of the nine recommended math and science programs.

“We are trying to help schools at whatever level they are at and scale them up until they become self-sustaining networks,” says Davenport. “There is a systemic push to get every school moving in this direction.”

Hiring specialists

More than 200 applied for the 78 specialist positions to work with elementary schools in the intensive support track in either math or science. CPS plans to complete hiring in June. (Some schools have agreed to share a specialist.)

The district also plans to hire 30 area coaches, 18 for elementary instructional areas and 12 (six math, six science) for the six high school regions.

Both specialists and coaches must have three years of experience teaching math or science and a state subject endorsement. Specialists will be trained in pedagogy and curriculum.