How One Public-Private Partnership Tries to Make Math Everyone's Friend

With the help of blended learning, both teachers and students receive extra support as they master math skills in 8th grade.

by / August 11, 2015 0
A school district superintendent wants to help students and teachers become friends with math.

Let's face it: Math isn't everyone's favorite subject. Neither is English or history for that matter.

But math phobia has a culture of its own on school campuses, and a San Jose, Calif., school district is working to change that mindset through a summer intervention program, and programs held before and after school. 

"We want math to be everyone's friend," said Mariann Engle, superintendent of Mt. Pleasant Elementary School District.

And by everyone, she means teachers as well. In elementary school, teachers aren't required to specialize in a particular subject, and many of them are often stronger in language arts than they are in math. On top of that, much of Mt. Pleasant's professional development historically focused on language arts, so teachers really weren't getting the support they needed in math.

But that's changed with a public-private partnership between Mt. Pleasant and the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, which created the Elevate Math summer intervention program to help prepare students for Algebra I. A number of the district's teachers lead the program for incoming 8th graders for 75 hours in the summer, and they receive plenty of support as they transition to teaching Common Core math.

The teachers form professional learning communities and participate in interactive professional development with the education foundation. Because they're not always comfortable with math, these learning opportunities help them break math down into simpler concepts that both they and their students can comprehend.

"Truly understanding math and going deep in that for middle school teachers is really important," said Muhammed Chaudhry, president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation. 

The skills and techniques they learn during these times pay off not only for the students they teach in the summer blended learning program, but also for their regular students during the school year. A lot of students in middle school get lost because educators spend more energy on math in elementary and high school. And when they fail a math class, retaking it doesn't make them better at math. 

Algebra I is often a predictor of how well students will do in college math. So if students can learn it and understand it the first time around, they will be better off down the road. By giving incoming 8th graders a head start on algebraic math concepts, this summer intervention program has helped students increase their algebra readiness from 12 percent to 29 percent, according to a report prepared for the Institute of Education Sciences.

But even though that's a significant increase, students in Mt. Pleasant still have a ways to go to be ready for Algebra I. And that's why it's so important that the education foundation and school district share data on where students stand mathematically, and continue their work throughout the school year to help struggling students succeed.

"Seventy-five hours isn't going to solve all of the students' math problems because we take kids who are significantly behind," Chaudhry said. "But it is double the rate."

Tanya Roscorla Former Managing Editor

Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.