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$20 Million Mathematics Partnership Grant Strengthens Math Teaching and Learning

A strong mathematics program is a vital part of any curriculum and now Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) will have more resources to make sure their students improve in math. This past fall, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded $20 million over five years to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to support the Milwaukee Partnership Academy’s work to improve the mathematics achievements of MPS students. UWM’s Center for Mathematics and Science Education Research (CMSER) will administer the award and coordinate efforts for the Milwaukee Mathematics Partnership between UWM and its partner institutions, MPS and the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC).

Mathematicians, mathematics educators, teachers and staff from these institutions will work collaboratively to support mathematics for Milwaukee students in kindergarten through college. The purpose of the grant is to build the capacity of the schools for continuous improvement toward student success in mathematics.

“This partnership is one of the most exciting in the nation. The mathematics initiative builds on the Milwaukee Partnership Academy’s work to develop a comprehensive literacy framework in that it includes clear and common standards, learning targets, and classroom-based assessments,” said Alfonzo Thurman, dean of the UWM School of Education and MPA board member. “The NSF grant serves as a catalyst for the creation of a mathematics framework that directly impacts students, teachers and teacher educators. The initiative greatly enhances mathematics instruction for students and teachers alike in MPS, UWM and MATC.”

“Through these awards, NSF is trying to encourage more students to pursue math longer and be successful at it,” says DeAnn Huinker, director of UWM’s CMSER and principal investigator of the grant. She and co-principal investigators Kevin McLeod of the Department of Mathematical Sciences at UWM, Henry Kranendonk, MPS mathematics curriculum specialist, and Kim Farley of MATC, will lead the Milwaukee Mathematics Partnership collaboration. Some of the other faculty from the School of Education (SOE) and Department of Mathematical Sciences that are currently collaborating on the grant include Henry Kepner from SOE’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Richard O'Malley, Fredric Ancel and Richard Stockbridge from Mathematics, and Cindy Walker from SOE’s Department of Educational Psychology.

The Milwaukee Mathematics Partnership has four goals: implement a comprehensive mathematics framework to guide improved teaching and learning, distribute leadership for mathematics, build and sustain teacher quality, and ensure students success in challenging mathematics.

Another key aspect of the partnership’s plan is to develop more consistent and stronger preparation for teaching mathematics, said Kranendonk. “Teachers need to deepen and strengthen their own knowledge of mathematics so they can explain it to students in terms the students understand.”

In February, MPS conducted five one-day seminars for more than 560 teachers and principals from 135 schools, focusing on implementing elements of the Milwaukee Mathematics Partnership in its schools. Each school sent its Learning Team to the seminar where they leaned about interpreting test data, professional development in mathematics and strategies to build a stronger math vision for each school. Participants were encouraged to come up with a specific action plan to improve mathematics at each of their schools.

Some of the sessions were taught by new MPS math teaching specialists. These are MPS teachers who were brought out of the classroom to help implement the mathematics program as part of the grant. Each specialist is assigned to work with specific schools where they help to facilitate professional development, assist in developing school education plans in mathematics, and gather benchmark data to ensure student achievement.

Huinker said, “The seminars allowed the Learning Teams time to focus specifically on mathematics and set the direction for their continued work together in improving mathematics learning and teaching in their schools. It also clarified the newly formed role of the math leader. As a result of the grant, each school was asked to identify a math teacher leader and add this person to its Learning Team.”

Now that teachers and administrators are informed about the Milwaukee Mathematics Partnership, Huinker said, “Our next steps will be to provide professional development for the math teacher leaders, to support school-embedded professional development through the district math specialists, and to further implementation and understanding of the mathematics framework and district learning targets in mathematics.”