“SERP field sites are structured as a set of three closely connected, and partially overlapping, groups: The Core Group, The Design Team, and the Research Team.”
SERP-MSAN Field Site will Address High School Mathematics Achievement and Academic Engagement
Among the challenges of K-12 education, few are more daunting than the intertwined couple that lurks at the entryway to high school: providing effective mathematics instruction to the diverse group of students entering ninth grade, and engaging those peer-focused students in academic life. The Strategic Education Research Partnership (SERP), with support from the Goldman Sachs Foundation, will bring together the leaders of a set of suburban School Districts and a group of prominent researchers to take on that challenge.
The SERP Institute, incubated at the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, was established in response to a 2003 National Research Council report that made an urgent case for strengthening the link between research and practice in education. SERP is creating a set of “field sites”: school districts that enter into well-structured, long-term partnerships with accomplished researchers to tackle urgent problems of practice. The SERP work is designed to create knowledge and tools of high value to school districts across the country, and to the field of education more generally.The field site team will include university participants with mathematics expertise, some of whom have contributed to the development of nationally-recognized mathematics programs. These include Ken Koedinger (Carnegie Mellon, Carnegie Learning’s Cognitive Tutor), Tom Romberg (University of Wisconsin, Mathematics in Context), and Uri Treisman (University of Texas, Agile Mind).
In the marketplace, these programs compete for the attention of school districts. SERP will bring together these natural competitors to collaborate on solving some of the problems that teachers confront regardless of the curriculum. How do teachers know which prerequisite pieces are weak when students are lost in ninth grade math? How can teachers get students back on track without banishing them to a lower track from which few ever return? How do they identify the student’s mathematics strengths so they can build on them? How can they monitor student progress to identify problems early, before the experience of failure becomes a familiar companion?
Ultimately, good instruction must be matched by motivation and interest on the part of students who, by and large, have other things on their minds. Joining the mathematics experts in the work will be some of the nation’s leading researchers on academic engagement among adolescents. Carol Dweck (Stanford University) is well known for her work demonstrating that students’ beliefs about academic performance –whether it’s a function of intelligence or of hard work—has a substantial impact on their willingness to persist academically. Joshua Aronson (New York University) and Ron Ferguson (Harvard University) have both devoted their scholarly efforts to understanding why the achievement of minority students often lags behind that of their white counterparts—even when all indications suggest they are just as capable. The list of talented researchers involved in the work goes on—and extends beyond mathematics and motivation, to include experts in school organization and management, school reform, and research methodology.
The participating school districts, Arlington, VA, Evanston IL, Madison, WI, and Shaker Heights, OH, are a subset of the 25 districts that have organized themselves into the Minority Student Achievement Network (MSAN). MSAN districts, many of which witnessed a widening achievement gap as their student populations became more diverse, have worked collectively to identify approaches to raising the achievement levels of all their students. They have looked to researchers and the research literature for inspiration, but have found it challenging to match the ideas of scholars to specific approaches to improving practices in their schools.
The SERP-MSAN field site will test whether a collaboration that shapes the research questions around the needs of the school districts can produce work that is indeed of high use value to schools, and to the accumulation of research knowledge for improving educational practice more broadly.