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Mathematics has a girl problem.

Although girls achieve at equal levels to boys in middle and

high school, many girls stop taking math as soon as they can. Girls are also much less likely
than boys to enter math-intensive college majors and, later, careers. Gender researchers
have shown that the root of this girl problem is not differences in innate math skills, but
rather the contexts in which students learn mathcontexts that give girls less
encouragement and less confidence in their math abilities. Eager to address this girl
problem, educators and policymakers usually respond: okay, so how do we fix the girls?
But, according to Jo Boaler, its the math classrooms, not the girls, which really need fixing.
Boaler, a Professor of Math Education in Stanfords School of Education, explained in a
recent presentation why traditional ways of teaching math through rote memorization just
arent cutting it. Her research shows that by simply changing the way math is taught, gender
differences in math achievement and math confidence disappear.

Are girls really worse at math?

Boaler is often asked whether the girl problem is just a gene problem. Americans tend to
understand gender differences in math achievement as unchangingunchangeable
differences in the way that boys and girls think. Girls just arent hard wired for math, some
say. But decades of research proves this assumption wrong. For one, gender gaps in math
achievement have rapidly declined over the last centuryfar outpacing any possible shifts in
human genetics. Additionally, gender differences are country-specific: in some European
nations, boys and girls math performance is equal. In places like Iceland, girls outperform
boys. If gender differences vary by culture, then can these differences really be genetic?
Perhaps most compelling, researchers examined over 250 separate studies of gender
differences in math and found no appreciable differences in ability once the number of math
courses boys and girls took was held constant.
Many educational decision-makers now understand that girls preferences are not a result of
genetics but rather the different ways boys and girls are treated by peers, teachers and
parents vis--vis math. To address this issue, schools abound with math camps,
extracurricular activities, and special (often pink) toys meant to develop girls confidence and
interest in math. But, Boaler asks, if the learning contexts are the problem, why are most
policies aimed at addressing gender differences in math still trying to fix girls?

Fix the classrooms, not the girls

Educational environments in which girls and boys learn math need changing, says Boaler.
The majority of math classrooms in the U.S. take a traditional approach to learning, where
teachers introduce students to progressively more difficult mathematical procedures.
Students are expected to memorize these procedures and then execute them on homework
and tests. Math problems are usually the closed-ended type where a single answer can be
circled at the end, and math procedures are usually taught by extracting them from real-

world situations where a person might actually need to use those procedures. For most of
us, save the obtuse word problem here and there, learning math meant scribbling down,
memorizing, and recapitulating the long strings of equations our teachers wrote on the

Elementary school student. Source: iStockPhotos/John Archer

Just because this is the way most of us were taught math does not mean its the only way,
the best way, or the most gender equitable way. Boaler asks: what if we identified the
learning environments that produced the most equitable and successful results and then
used those learning environments as templates for the way math should be taught?
Boalers research actually identified such a learning environment. She studied approaches
to math education at two otherwise nearly-identical high schools in England: Amber Hill
and Phoenix Park. Amber Hill approached math the traditional waystudents copied down
formulas from the board, completed worksheets, and were split up into one of eight ability
groups. At this school, boys did better in math than girls.
Things were different at Phoenix Park. Instead of a traditional environment, students
learned math through collaboration, working together with their classmates to solve complex,
multi-dimensional, open-ended problems. At Phoenix Park, boys and girls performed equally
well in math and both boys and girls scored at higher levels than the students who had
learned math traditionally.

But what about the boys?

Skeptics might argue that this erasure of gender differences was achieved because boys
math performance slipped in the Phoenix Park context. But, thats simply not the case
Boaler found that, although the improvement was smaller in magnitude, boys at Phoenix
Park also scored slightly better than boys at Amber Hill. If a learning environment produces
a more equitable learning experience for one group of students without negatively affecting
the other groups math achievement, why wouldnt we adopt this new approach?
Boaler explains that there is a surprisingly high level of resistance among parents, teachers,
and principals to this new way of teaching math. Part of this resistance may be due to the
belief that math is a rite of passage of sorts, which builds character and perseverance in

young people. I struggled through my math courses, some say, and so should todays
students. But the fact is, Boaler explains, compared to other academic subjectsEnglish,
science, etcthe way we teach math to children is very different from the way math
education researchers have identified as the most effective way to teach math. By
realigning math education to be more like the gender-equitable learning environments at
Phoenix Park, we can move the dialogand the blamefrom whats wrong with girls to how
we can make math education better for everyone.
Of course, not all parents have the ability to place their children in gender-equitable math
learning environments. For those parents, Boaler has an important piece of advice: parents
should emphasize to their children that being good at math is an achievement, not a gift.
Once studentsespecially girlsunderstand that being good at math is something that one
can earn, they are likely to be more confident in their math abilities, and less willing to give
up on math.


Dr. Jo Boaler is a Professor of Mathematics Education in the Stanford School

of Education. Her work has appeared in news outlets in the US and the UK, including the
New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Her most recent book, What's Math Got to Do
With It? (2008) is aimed at increasing public understanding of effective math teaching and
learning. Boalers presentation was co-sponsored by the Clayman Institute for Gender
Research, the Stanford University School of Education, and the Education and Society
Theme House (EAST) as part of the winter symposium, Ms. at 40 and the Future of
Feminism. Many thanks to Professor Christine Min Wotipka for organizing this event.

Responses to Sugar and spice and math underachievement?

03 April, 2012Peggy Ludwick (not verified)
Thanks for this great article. I've been doing gender equity work in the schools for the past
30 years, focusing on building interest, confidence, and achievement in math/science for
middle school-aged, under-served girls.These have been special, grant-funded, after school
programs (GEMS - Girls Empowered by Math and Science). Unfortunately, things haven't
changed all that much in the traditional classroom, as you so aptly pointed out. And, I'm

constantly amazed at the number of women who, as mothers, throw up their hands and say,
"I was never good in math", in front of their daughters! I've always told all of my children and
students: "You need to take 4 years of high school math and science to better prepare for
college, have access to more/higher paying career options, and be a math/science literate
citizen capable of making informed decisions in both your public and private lives. You don't
have to like math to take math." If I hadn't had intro to calculus in HS, I never would have
gotten through my calculus classes in college, which were required for my major in
Microbiology and Public Health.
I did post-graduate work at Stanford University Medical Center in 1970 - 72. I'll be visiting my
youngest son in Palo Alto, who is also a Stanford grad (in Film and Media Studies!), at the
end of April. I would love to visit the Clayman Center on Monday, April 30th. Would that be

04 April, 2012Anonymous (not verified)

If it weren't for an AP level Calculus course at my high school, I would have never majored in
math in college. I was shy in class and never considered myself a "wizard" at math. I had
many women math teachers, which may subconsciously broke gender stereotypes. Being a
bland subject taught in public school, I would have never thought I would have come this far
with it. I am accepted into a graduate program in Mechanical Engineering. I just wish there
were more women in my classes! The boys are incredibly male centric in their humor and
approach to solving. Many assume a women cannot pass these classes. The
encouragement level and empathy from peers is non-existent. If my girlfriends were in my
classes, I would have a better time and want to be there learning more.
I teach K to 7 Math for an online gifted math program through Stanford. The online
environment allows students to work at their own paces through an advanced curriculum. 66
out of 152 (or 43%) of my currently active students are female.
- See more at:

Working with Your Child's Teacher to

Identify and Address Math Disabilities
By: Diane Pedrotty Bryant
In this article:

How Are Math Disabilities Identified?

Understanding Assessment Results

Different Models for Identifying Learning Disabilities

Working With Your Child's Teacher to Identify and Address Math Difficulties

Summing It Up

Educators and researchers are beginning to pay more attention to the notion
that some students have difficulty learning math skills and concepts taught in
today's classrooms. It is important for school personnel and parents to work
together to identify math problems when they arise and to address them both at
school and home. Identifying and addressing math difficulties in the early grades
can potentially prevent more serious problems in later grades. This article will
explain how children are identified as having a math disability and suggest ways
to work with your child's teacher to address the problems.

How Are Math Disabilities Identified?

Mathematics disabilities are identified through a variety of procedures. Usually
the classroom teacher or parent observes that the child is having persistent
difficulty learning mathematics and tends to perform poorly on classroom math
assessments compared to the rest of the class. For example, the child may have
trouble remembering what the teacher has taught or she may have difficulty
using effective strategies to solve math problems. By observing and working
directly with a child over time, the teacher can determine if her difficulty learning
mathematics is persistent. Unfortunately, mathematics disabilities are usually
not identified until the upper elementary school years because early problems
often go undetected and assessment results may not be sensitive enough to
detect a problem until the later grades.
Information about the child's performance can be gathered in several ways.
Weekly tests, homework, and class work samples are examples of information
the teacher can collect about the child's progress learning the mathematics
curriculum. The teacher may adapt how instruction is provided to accommodate
a child's learning needs and then note how the child responds to those
adaptations. The teacher may also seek assistance from a specialist or school
support team who can offer additional ideas about how to adapt instruction for
the child who is struggling to learn the curriculum. The teacher may also consult
with the child's parents to understand how the child is doing on math homework.
All of this information helps the teacher and school support team develop a
profile of the child's learning difficulties and her response to instruction and
If the child continues to exhibit learning problems, a formal referral for special
education assessment might be recommended. There are a variety of formal
assessments that can be used to identify math skills and concepts that are
problematic for the child. Some of these measures are specific to the curriculum,
some are diagnostic in nature, and others are viewed as measures of
achievement. The school psychologist or other diagnostician determines which

assessment measures to use for testing purposes. The following are examples of
some of the more common assessment measures:
Curriculum-based assessments relate specifically to the skills and concepts
typically taught in a certain grade level. Examples include:

Brigance Comprehensive Inventory of Basic Skills-Revised

Brigance Inventory of Essential Skills

Diagnostic assessments provide information about a student's strengths and

weaknesses compared to students of the same age or grade level. Examples

Key Math-Revised

Stanford Diagnostic Mathematics Test-4

Achievement assessments broadly measure areas of academic knowledge and

application and compare a child's performance to that of students of the same
age or grade level. Examples include:

Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement

Peabody Individual Achievement Test-Revised

Wide Range Achievement Test-3

Woodcock-Johnson Psycho-Educational Battery, Part Two: Tests of


Understanding Assessment Results

As the school assesses your child for a possible math disability, you can play an
active role. For example, you can ask to see information collected by the
classroom teacher on your child's math performance in class. Additionally, the
school is required to inform you of the results of the assessment conducted as
part of a special education referral for testing. You can learn more about the
results from any of the assessments by asking some of the following questions:

What skills and concepts do the assessment measure?

How much and what type of instruction has my child received prior to the

What information does the assessment provide?

How will the assessment results be used to provide more appropriate

math instruction for my child?

Who is the best person (at school or an outside professional) to provide

my child with extra math support? If you and the teacher think a tutor
would offer the type of assistance your child needs, don't hesitate to ask
the teacher for recommendations.

Different Models for Identifying Learning Disabilities

Most school districts currently use a process called the discrepancy model to
identify whether a child has a specific learning disability (LD), as defined by state
regulations. In the discrepancy model, the school psychologist determines if
there is a significant discrepancy between a child's potential (usually measured
by an intelligence, or IQ, test) and achievement (as measured by an
achievement test). Researchers have called this model into question for a variety
of reasons; it is viewed by many as an inappropriate method for identifying LD,
in part because a child must experience academic failure before her LD is
With this in mind, the current Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA
2004) legislation permits states (and school districts) to use alternative
procedures for identifying LD. The response-to-intervention model looks at how
a child responds to research-based instruction over time. In this approach, math
instruction that is delivered in small groups and tailored for the child's learning
needs is implemented and the child's progress noted.

Working With Your Child's Teacher to Identify and Address Math

You can play an active role in helping to identify and address your child's math
difficulties. For example, you can work with your child's teacher by:

Sharing information and observations about any difficulties your child has
completing homework.

Being involved in the assessment process.

Asking questions about instructional (teaching) practices.

To address your child's math difficulties at home, you can develop a sense of her
questions and frustrations while supervising and observing her doing homework.
Here are some questions to ask your child to help her approach her math
homework assignments:

How did your teacher explain the problems in class today?

Did you do any math problems like this in class today? Could they help
you figure out your homework?

Did your teacher explain the steps for solving this type of problem?

How can you break the problem into smaller chunks to help you solve it?

Noting your child's responses to the questions and sharing this information
with her classroom teacher may provide insight into the particular difficulties
your child is experiencing.
Finally, you can learn about the instructional practices used by teachers and
math specialists to help your child. When talking with your child's math teacher,
ask some of the following questions:

What math skills will you teach during the next report card grading

How do you use small group work and peer support to provide extra math

What types of adaptations will you provide if my child struggles learning

the math skills and concepts?

How can a calculator be used to help my child perform basic calculations

to solve more advanced math problems?

What strategies or steps will you provide to help my child learn and solve
math problems?

What math vocabulary is included in classroom lessons that we can

reinforce at home?

Is there math software that would help my child practice math skills?

Summing It Up
By working with your child's teacher, you can help ensure that your child's math
needs are being identified and addressed. This article has offered a series of
questions about assessment and instructional practices to help you collaborate
effectively with your child's teacher. Above all, remember that your observations
and input as a parent are valuable to the process of helping your child succeed in

Counseling 101 Column

A Problem-Solving Model for Improving Student
Problem solving is an alternative to assessments and diagnostic categories as a means to
identify students who need special services.
By Andrea Canter

The implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has prompted renewed efforts
to hold schools and students accountable for meeting high academic standards. At the
same time, Congress has been debating the reauthorization of the Individuals With
Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which has heightened concerns that NCLB will indeed
leave behind many students who have disabilities or other barriers to learning. This
convergence of efforts to address the needs of at-risk students while simultaneously
implementing high academic standards has focused attention on a number of proposals
and pilot projects that are generally referred to as problem-solving models. A more
specific approach to addressing academic difficulties, response to intervention (RTI), has
often been proposed as a component of problem solving.

What Is Problem Solving?

A problem-solving model is a systematic approach that reviews student strengths and
weaknesses, identifies evidence-based instructional interventions, frequently collects data
to monitor student progress, and evaluates the effectiveness of interventions
implemented with the student. Problem solving is a model that first solves student
difficulties within general education classrooms. If problem-solving interventions are not
successful in general education classrooms, the cycle of selecting intervention strategies
and collecting data is repeated with the help of a building-level or grade-level
intervention assistance or problem-solving team. Rather than relying primarily on test
scores (e.g., from an IQ or math test), the students response to general education
interventions becomes the primary determinant of his or her need for special education
evaluation and services (Marston, 2002; Reschly & Tilly, 1999).

Why Is a New Approach Needed?

Although much of the early implementation of problem-solving models has involved
elementary schools, problem solving also has significant potential to improve outcomes for
secondary school students. Therefore, it is important for secondary school administrators
to understand the basic concepts of problem solving and consider how components of this
model could mesh with the needs of their schools and students. Because Congress will
likely include RTI options in its reauthorization of special education law and regulations
regarding learning disabilities, it is also important for school personnel to be familiar with
the pros and cons of the problem-solving model.
Student outcomes. Regardless of state or federal mandates, schools need to change the
way they address academic problems. More than 25 years of special education legislation
and funding have failed to demonstrate either the cost effectiveness or the validity of
aligning instruction to diagnostic classifications (Fletcher et al., 2002; Reschly & Tilly,
1999; Ysseldyke & Marston, 1999). Placement in special education programs has not
guaranteed significant academic gains or better life outcomes for students with
disabilities. Time-consuming assessments that are intended to differentiate students with
disabilities from those with low achievement have not resulted in better instruction for
struggling students.
Dilemma of learning disabilities. The learning disabilities (LD) classification has proven
especially problematic. Researchers and policymakers representing diverse philosophies

regarding disability are generally in agreement that the current process needs revision
(Fletcher et al., 2002). Traditionally, if a student with LD is to be served in special
education, an evaluation using individual intelligence tests and norm-referenced
achievement tests is required to document an ability/achievement discrepancy. This
model has been criticized for the following reasons:

A reliance on intelligence tests in general and with students from ethnic and
linguistic minority populations in particular

A focus on within-child deficiencies that often ignore quality of instruction and

environmental factors

The limited applicability of norm-referenced information to actual classroom


The burgeoning identification of students as disabled

The resulting allocation of personnel to responsibilities (classification) that are

significantly removed from direct service to students (Ysseldyke & Marston, 1999).

Wait to fail. A major flaw in the current system of identifying student needs is what has
been dubbed the wait to fail approach in which students are not considered eligible for
support until their skills are widely discrepant from expectations. This runs counter to
years of research demonstrating the importance of early intervention (Presidents
Commission on Excellence in Special Education, 2002). Thus, a number of students fail to
receive any remedial services until they reach the intermediate grades or middle school,
by which time they often exhibit motivational problems and behavioral problems as well
as academic deficits.
For other students, although problems are noted when they are in the early grades,
referral is delayed until they fail graduation or high school standards tests, increasing the
probability that they will drop out. Their school records often indicate that teachers and
parents expressed concern for these students in the early grades, which sometimes
resulted in referral for assessments, but did not result in qualification for special
education or other services.
Call for evidence-based programs. One of the major tenets of NCLB is the
implementation of scientifically based interventions to improve student performance. The
traditional models used by most schools today lack such scientifically based evidence.
There are, however, many programs and instructional strategies that have demonstrated
positive outcomes for diverse student populations and needs (National Reading Panel,
2000). It is clear that schools need systemic approaches to identify and resolve student
achievement problems and access proven instructional strategies.

How It Works
Although problem-solving steps can be described in several stages, the steps essentially
reflect the scientific method of defining and describing a problem (e.g., Ted does not
comprehend grade-level reading material); generating potential solutions (e.g., Ted might

respond well to direct instruction in comprehension strategies); and implementing,

monitoring, and evaluating the effectiveness of the selected intervention.
Problem-solving models have been implemented in many versions at local and state levels
to reflect the unique features and needs of individual schools. However, all problemsolving models share the following components:

Screening and assessment that is focused on student skills rather than classification

Measuring response to instruction rather than relying on norm-referenced


Using evidence-based strategies within general education classrooms

Developing a collaborative partnership among general and special educators for

consultation and team decision making.

Three-tiered model. One common problem-solving model is the three-tiered model. In

this model, tier one includes problem-solving strategies directed by the teacher within the
general education classrooms. Tier two includes problem-solving efforts at a team level in
which grade-level staff members or a team of various school personnel collaborate to
develop an intervention plan that is still within the general education curriculum. Tier
three involves referral to a special education team for additional problem solving and,
potentially, a special education assessment (Office of Special Education Programs, 2002).
Response to intervention. A growing body of research and public policy discussion has
focused on problem-solving models that include evaluating a students RTI as an
alternative to the IQ-achievement discrepancy approach to identifying learning disabilities
(Gresham, 2002). RTI refers to specific procedures that align with the steps of problem

Implementing evidence-based interventions

Frequently measuring a students progress to determine whether the intervention is


Evaluating the quality of the instructional strategy

Evaluating the fidelity of its implementation. (For example, did the intervention
work? Was it scientifically based? Was it implemented as planned?)

Although there is considerable debate about replacing traditional eligibility procedures

with RTI approaches (Vaughn & Fuchs, 2003), there is promising evidence that RTI can
systematically improve the effectiveness of instruction for struggling students and provide
school teams with evidence-based procedures that measures a students progress and his
or her need for special services.

New roles for personnel. An important component of problem-solving models is the

allocation (or realignment) of personnel who are knowledgeable about the applications of
research to classroom practice. Whereas traditional models often limit the availability of
certain personnelfor example, school psychologiststo prevention and early intervention
activities (e.g., classroom consultation), problem-solving models generally enhance the
roles of these service providers through a systemic process that is built upon general
education consultation. Problem solving shifts the emphasis from identifying disabilities to
implementing earlier interventions that have the potential to reduce referral and
placement in special education.

Outcomes of Problem Solving and RTI

Anticipated benefits of problem-solving models, particularly those using RTI procedures,
include emphasizing scientifically proven instructional methods, the early identification
and remediation of achievement difficulties, more functional and frequent measurement
of student progress, a reduction in inappropriate and disproportionate special education
placements of students from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and a
reallocation of instructional and behavior support personnel to better meet the needs of
all students (Gresham, 2002; Ysseldyke & Marston, 1999). By using problem solving, some
districts have reduced overall special education placements, increased individual and
group performance on standards tests, and increased collaboration among special and
general educators.
The enhanced collaboration between general education teachers and support personnel is
particularly important at the secondary level because staff members often have limited
interaction with school personnel who are outside of their specialty area. Problem solving
provides a vehicle to facilitate communication across disciplines to resolve student
difficulties in the classroom. Secondary schools, however, face additional barriers to
collaboration because each student may have five or more teachers. Special education is
often even more separated from general education in secondary school settings.
Secondary school teachers also have a greater tendency to see themselves as content
specialists and may be less invested in addressing general learning problems, particularly
when they teach five or six class periods (and 150 or more students) each day. The sheer
size of the student body and the staff can create both funding and logistical difficulties for
scheduling training and team meetings.

Is Problem Solving Worth the Effort?

Data from district-wide and state-level projects in rural, suburban, and urban communities
around the country support the need to thoughtfully implement problem-solving models at
all grade levels. There are several federally funded demonstration centers that
systematically collect information about these approaches. Although national
demonstration models may be a few years away, it seems likely that state and federal
regulations under IDEA will include problem solving and RTI as accepted experimental
options. Problem solving continues to offer much promise to secondary school
administrators who are seeking to improve student performance through ongoing
assessment and evidence-based instruction. PL

Fletcher, J., Lyon, R., Barnes, M., Stuebing, K., Francis, D., Olson, R., Shaywitz, S., &
Shaywitz, B. (2002). Classification of learning disabilities: An evidence-based evaluation.
In R. Bradley, L. Donaldson, & D. Hallahan (Eds.), Identification of learning disabilities (pp.
185250). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Gresham, F. (2002). Responsiveness to intervention: An alternative approach to the
identification of learning disabilities. In R. Bradley, L. Donaldson, & D. Hallahan (Eds.),
Identification of learning disabilities (pp. 467519). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Marston, D. (2002). A functional and intervention-based assessment approach to
establishing discrepancy for students with learning disabilities. In R. Bradley, L. Donaldson,
& D. Hallahan (Eds.), Identification of learning disabilities (pp. 437447). Mahwah, NJ:
National Reading Panel. (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment
of the scientific literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction-Reports
of the subgroups. Washington, DC: Author.
Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education. (2002). Specific
learning disabilities: Finding common ground (Report of the Learning Disabilities Round
Table). Washington, DC: Author.
Presidents Commission on Excellence in Special Education. (2002). A new era: Revitalizing
special education for children and their families. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of
Reschly, D., & Tilly, W. D. III (1999). Reform trends and system design alternatives. In D.
Reschly, W. D. Tilly III, & J. Grimes (Eds.), Special education in transition: Functional
assessment and noncategorical programming (pp. 1948). Longmont, CO: Sopris West.
Vaughn, S., & Fuchs, L. (Eds.) (2003). Special issue: Response to intervention. Learning
Disabilities Research & Practice, 18(3).
Ysseldyke, J., & Marston, D. (1999). Origins of categorical special education services in
schools and a rationale for changing them. In D. Reschly, W. D. Tilly III, & J. Grimes (Eds.),
Special education in transition: Functional assessment and noncategorical programming
(pp. 118). Longmont, CO: Sopris West.

Case Study: Optimizing Success Through Problem Solving

By Marcia Staum and Lourdes Ocampo
Milwaukee Public Schools, the largest school district in Wisconsin, is educating students
with Optimizing Success Through Problem Solving (OSPS), a problem-solving initiative that
uses a four-step, data-based, decision-making process to enhance school reform efforts.
OSPS is patterned after best practices in the prevention literature and focuses on

prevention, early intervention, and focused intervention levels. Problem-solving

facilitators provide staff members with the training, modeling, support, and tools they
need to effectively use data to drive their instructional decision-making. The OSPS
initiative began in the fall of 2000 with seven participating schools. Initially, elementary
and middle level schools began to use OSPS, with an emphasis on problem solving for
individual student issues. As the initiative matured, increased focus was placed on
prevention and early intervention support in the schools. Today, 78 schools participate in
the OSPS initiative and are serviced by a team of 18 problem-solving facilitators.

OSPS in Action: Juneau High School

The administration of Juneau High School, a Milwaukee public charter school with 900
students, invited OSPS to become involved at Juneau for the 20032004 school year.
Because at the time OSPS had limited involvement with high schools, two problem-solving
facilitators were assigned to Juneau for one half-day each week. The problem-solving
facilitators immediately joined the Juneaus learning team, which is a small group of staff
members and administrators who make educational decisions aimed at increasing student
When the problem-solving facilitators became involved with Juneau, the learning team
was working to improve student participation on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts
Exam (WKCE). The previous year, Juneaus 10th-grade participation on the exam had been
very low. The learning team used OSPSs four-step problem-solving process to develop and
implement a plan that resulted in a 99% student participation rate on the WKCE. After this
initial success, the problem-solving model was also used at Juneau to increase parent
participation in parent-teacher conferences. According to Myron Cain, Juneaus principal,
Problem solving has helped the learning team at Juneau go from dialogue into action. In
addition, problem solving has supported the school within the Collaborative Support Team
process and with teambuilding, which resulted in a better school climate.
By starting at the prevention level, Juneau found that there was increased commitment
from staff members. OSPS is now in the initial stages of working with Juneau to explore
alternatives to suspension. The goal is to create a working plan that will lead to creative
ways of decreasing the number of suspensions at Juneau.
Marcia Staum is a school psychologist, and Lourdes Ocampo is a school social worker for
Optimizing Success Through Problem Solving.

What Is Response to Intervention?

Many researchers have recommended that a students response to intervention or response
to instruction (RTI) should be considered as an alternative or replacement to the
traditional IQ-achievement discrepancy approach to identifying learning disabilities
(Gresham, 2002; Presidents Commission on Excellence in Special Education, 2002).
Although there is considerable debate about replacing traditional eligibility procedures
with RTI approaches (Vaughn & Fuchs, 2003), there is promising evidence that RTI can
systematically improve the effectiveness of instruction for struggling students and provide
school teams with evidence-based procedures to measure student progress and need for
special services. In fact, Congress has proposed the use of research-based RTI methods (as

part of a comprehensive evaluation process to reauthorize IDEA) as an allowable

alternative to the use of an IQ-achievement discrepancy procedure in identifying learning
RTI refers to specific procedures that align with the steps of problem solving. These steps
include the implementation of evidence-based instructional strategies in the general
education classroom and the frequent measurement of a students progress to determine
if the intervention is effective. In settings where RTI is also a criteria for identification of
disability, a students progress in response to intervention is an important determinant of
the need and eligibility for special education services.
It is important for administrators to recognize that RTI can be implemented in various
ways depending on a schools overall service delivery model and state and federal
mandates. An RTI approach benefits from the involvement of specially trained personnel,
such as school psychologists and curriculum specialists, who have expertise in instructional
consultation and evaluation.

National Center on Student Progress Monitoring,
National Research Center on Learning Disabilities,

Critical Issue:
Ensuring Equity and Excellence in Mathematics
ISSUE: All students, regardless of race, ethnic group, gender, socioeconomic
status, geographic location, age, language, disability, or prior mathematics
achievement, deserve equitable access to challenging and meaningful mathematics
learning and achievement. This concept has profound implications for teaching and
learning mathematics throughout the school community. It suggests that
ensuring equity and excellence must be at the core of systemic reform efforts, not
only in mathematics, but in education as a whole.
OVERVIEW: Educators and community members are beginning to
recognize that most students, including a disproportionate number of women,
minorities, and the poor, leave school without the mathematical skills they need to
thrive in
an increasingly complex, global economy.

tradition of low expectations, changing workforce needs,

economic necessity, and shifting demographics call for
unprecedented reform in mathematics education. Responses to this call for reform
have included the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics'
(NCTM's)Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics (1989),

NCTM's Professional Standards for Teaching Mathematics (1991), and portions of

the National Education Goals established by the Goals 2000: Educate America Act
(1994). Behind Goals 2000 and the NCTM standards is the conviction that all
students can learn a significant core of mathematics and that the entire school
community must have high expectations for every child's mathematics education.
In Reaching All Students With Mathematics (Cuevas & Driscoll, 1993b), an NCTM
task force gave special attention to programs that work to ensure equity and
excellence for all students. These programs and other exemplary programs
implement high standards and often foster cultural and linguistic diversity in an
effort to increase the participation and success of underrepresented groups. Many
of the best practices of such programs can be adapted for individual school

All students will have equitable access to challenging and meaningful
mathematics learning and achievement.
Teachers will promote and model a belief in the importance of diversity,
excellence, and high-quality mathematics instruction in their work with
students, colleagues, and the community.
Administrators, school board members, parents, and other members of the
school community will support and model a belief in the importance of
equity and excellence in mathematics education.

Raise expectations throughout the school community for the mathematics
achievement of females, minorities, and students with disabilities.
Address teacher- and student-related factors that influence minority student
participation and performance in mathematics (e.g., expectations, previous
experiences, assessment practices, language, stereotypes).
Address gender inequities in mathematics.

Increase participation and achievement in mathematics by students from

underserved groups.
Make mathematics more meaningful for traditionally underrepresented
Improve students' self-esteem and confidence in their mathematical abilities
by enabling them to have "success experiences" in challenging and
meaningful areas.
Reexamine all grouping practices. End traditional tracking, use flexible
grouping, and encourage frequent collaboration by students of diverse
ability, age, gender, socioeconomic status, and cultural background.
When appropriate, make program decisions based on the systemic analysis
of student performance data disaggregated by race, gender, and ethnicity.
Use mathematics assessments to promote equity.
Avoid culturally biased assessment practices.
Evaluate all assessments - including alternative assessments - based on
equity criteria.
Participate in professional development experiences designed to support the
reexamination of beliefs, expectations, and cultural sensitivities; develop
skill in teaching in diverse classrooms; improve practice in new curriculum,
instruciton, and assessment strategies; and redefine roles and responsibilties
in support of equity in mathematics.
Provide educational leadership to support equity and excellence through
policy, staffing, curriculum, new standards and assessments, professional
development, and participation in decisionmaking.
Involve parents as partners in the mathematical education of their children.
Involve community members - particularly members from a variety of
cultural backgrounds and experiences - as role models, tutors, career
speakers, consultants, and partners in reform.
DIFFERENT POINTS OF VIEW: Some people believe that inherent differences
in ability among males and females, racial and socioeconomic groups, and
individual students make high expectations for all students unrealistic and ill-

conceived. Although research generally has discredited this view, the debate has
been reopened by a recent book, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure
in American Life, by Murray and Herrnstein.
Parents of gifted students and some educators fear that gifted students
will suffer if high-end tracking and ability grouping are eliminated. They also
question the appropriateness of having these students serve as peer tutors in
heterogeneous, cooperative learning environments as the primary experience of
gifted education. They are not convinced that ensuring equity and excellence for all
students will improve the educational experiences of gifted students.
Parents of minority students are concerned about new math standards and curricula
that deemphasize paper-and-pencil computation. Computation skills often are
associated with mathematical competence, and the lack of mastery of these skills
has been used to justify denying opportunities to minority students. Therefore,
these parents are not convinced that mathematics reform is in the best interests of
their children (Secada, 1994).
IMPLEMENTATION PITFALLS: Teachers, school leaders, students, parents,
and community members may have differing conceptions of equity, making the
goal of achieving equity and excellence more problematic.
According to Michael Apple (1992) (cited in Century, 1994), poor
schools already in advanced states of decay may view the NCTM
Standards as unattainable and beneficial only to more wealthy schools and
districts; they may see reform merely as intrusive outside control that will
perpetuate - rather than eliminate - inequalities. All schools involved in reform will
have to understand and share the democratic vision that underlies the Standards
and address the issues of power and practice raised by the Standards.
The widely held and deeply rooted belief that poor and minority students, students
with disabilities, and female students are inherently incapable of attaining high
levels of mathematics achievement may be internalized by students, parents,
community members, and educators, thus becoming a "self-fulfilling prophecy."
For example, such beliefs often support the misconception that adults living in
poverty lack motivation or intelligence and that their children have the same
"inadequacies." These attitudes about socioeconomic status, racial minorities,
gender differences, and labeling must be recognized and reexamined to promote
equity and excellence (Century, 1994).
Educators will need time for ongoing, effective professional development as they
learn new curriculum, instruction, and assessment strategies. Indeed, all members
of the school community will need to reexamine their beliefs, expectations, and
cultural sensitivities; develop a shared vision of equity and excellence in

mathematics education; and determine their new roles and responsibilities in

supporting equitable mathematics education for all students.
Successful reform also will require creating a supportive climate for
implementation, integrating community services, engaging families and
communities, and developing guidelines for effective collaborative planning.

Math Teachers: The Nation Builders of

the 21st Century
Remarks to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
APRIL 15, 2011


I want to start by thanking you. All of you here today have dedicated your lives to the
classroom and your students.
I know that you could have chosen easier jobs and everyone knows there are plenty of
better paying jobs--especially people with your high level of mathematical knowledge.
But you have responded to a calling one in which you are transforming the lives of
children every day.
President Obama and I understand the role that teachers play in preparing our students
for success in life.
Other than parents, the biggest impact on a child's success comes from the man or
woman at the front of the classroom.
It doesn't matter what the academic subject is -- or the age of the student.
From the moment students enter a school, the most important factor in their success is
the teacher.
All too often teachers don't get the respect they deserve.

Shortly after he took office, President Obama travelled to Asia. He discovered that in
South Korea and Singapore teachers are considered "nation builders." That is a powerful
concept nation builders.
In those countries, everyone understands that teachers are preparing the leaders and
workers who will ensure the country's long-term economic prosperity.
Sadly, In America, our teachers aren't treated like the nation builders that they are.
Education is the key to America's success in the 21st Century.
Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, recently said that "the best
solution to income inequality is producing a high-quality education for everyone."
He believes that, in the information age, "people without education will not be able to
improve their economic situation."
Our teachers are integral both to our economic and national security and to solving the
civil rights issues of our generation.
Last month, I participated in a sobering press conference where military leaders outlined
their challenges in recruiting young men and women into the armed services.
Here's a stunning statistic: 75 percent of Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 are
unable to enlist in the military today because they have failed to graduate from high
school, have a criminal record, or are physically unfit.
Finally, I firmly believe education is the civil rights issue of our generation.
For all of these reasons, President Obama is investing in education reform. He is
committed to reducing the deficit even if it means cutting some programs that he cares
deeply about.
But in budget negotiations, he has maintained a commitment to our cradle-to-career
educational agenda that is remarkable. We have to educate our way to a better
The President understands that math teachers have a unique role to play in the future of
To be a well-informed citizen and a participant in the knowledge economy, Americans
must be mathematically literate.

We need to be able to do basic computation and solve complex problems. We must

understand the magic of compound interest and how it affects our personal financial
We should be able to use the logic of Algebra and the spatial reasoning of Geometry to
understand and solve real-life problems.
These mathematical practices equip learners with the ability to solve complex problems
and think critically about issues unrelated to mathematical concepts.
With these skills, our young people will have the potential to do amazing things in
math, in science, or whatever field they choose to pursue.
As professionals devoted to the teaching and learning of mathematics, you are the
teachers, the school leaders, the professors, the curriculum developers, and the
researchers who will shape young students' minds to be leaders of the future.
Today, it's clear that too few American students have the mathematical knowledge to
compete in our 21st Century globally-based economy.
Look at the scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress: Just 40 percent
of 4th graders and 34 percent of 8th graders are proficient in math.
Although the NAEP scores have increased steadily over the past two decades, far too
many students haven't mastered challenging subject matter in foundational skills of
Algebra and geometry.
The international data is even more troubling. Data from the Program for International
Student Assessment shows that American 15-year-olds are scoring below the average of
industrialized nations.
Fortunately, educators have many model programs to follow. Walter Payton College Prep
in my home town of Chicago is just one such example.
It's a high performing high school, but the teachers at Payton know they need to
contribute to mathematics improvement in their broader community.
They run a citywide Saturday math program for middle school students who want to
explore advanced mathematical concepts such as infinities, geometric inequalities, and
complex geometry.

The school has a math team that has won state titles several times beating prestigious
private schools. In the classroom, it's produced high achievement across all subgroups
of students.
For all of their work, the team at Payton won an Intel Star Innovator Award last year as
one of the best mathematics programs in the country. I understand that many members
of the Payton math department are here today.
I'd like to recognize them and applaud their work.
Across the country, there are plenty of examples of math engagement, excitement, and
extraordinary achievement like Payton.
Our challenge is to make these experiences the norm for mathematics education in
As mathematics educators, you will play a leading role in scaling what works and solving
these problems.
I see three specific issues for math educators to address.
First we need to improve student achievement to dramatically increase the number of
students graduating from high school and going to college prepared to succeed in higher
level mathematics.
Second, we need to raise expectations of our students and increase the rigor of the
And finally, we need to improve the quality of teaching in the classroom.
The first challenge is to prepare students for success in college. To ensure our nation's
long-term competitiveness, President Obama has challenged America to once again
lead the world in college completion.
Just one generation ago, we did lead the world with about 40 percent of our young adults
earning college degrees.
We've stagnated while South Korea and other countries have passed us. Now we're
ninth. To meet the President's goal, 8 million additional students will have to earn a
degree over the next decade.
In recent years, it has become increasingly clear that Algebra is the key to success in

Students who have completed Algebra II in high school are twice as likely to earn a
degree as those who didn't.
One of the best gifts math teachers can give their students is to teach them how to solve
complex algebraic equations.
It provides the foundation of using logic to solve problems. It helps students make
connections between multiple pieces of information. It teaches them to use reasoning to
figure out which tools to use to solve a problem.
The Algebra experience prepares them for higher level mathematics and leads to
academic success across the curriculum.
I want to add that Algebra is essential for all college students not only those who are
pursuing four-year degrees.
Every year thousands of students earn a degree from a community college or an
industry-recognized certification that will help them land a job that leads to a successful
Those students will need to be mathematicians too. Airplane mechanics do complex
measurements and work with proportions and ratios.
X-ray technicians calculate time exposures to capture the clearest possible image.
Most factory workers need to understand Algebra II or even some trigonometry to
operate complex manufacturing electronic equipment. These are the jobs and the skills
required to compete successfully in today's economy.
For all students, Algebra is a gateway for success in college and beyond.
To meet the challenge of ensuring all students complete Algebra, our teachers need to
increase the rigor of what's taught in the classroom.
For decades, researchers have documented that American schools aren't providing an
in-depth mathematics curriculum.
They have called math instruction in America "a mile wide and an inch deep."
Historically, in many schools, the course of study repeats mathematical concepts several
times over the course of the K-12 curriculum providing students a superficial
understanding of mathematical concepts without ever leading them to a mastery of the
subject. Thankfully, that is changing in a profound way.

Through the courage and leadership of governors and chief state school officers, states
are addressing this problem by adopting a common set of high standards in mathematics
and language arts.
These standards are raising expectations for students.
Instead of dummying down the standards to make politicians look good, they increase
rigor for students.
Starting in kindergarten, the standards put students on an instructional path to learn the
mathematics necessary for success in college and careers.
Researchers are starting to analyze these standards and are finding that they are as
rigorous as the expectations for NAEP and the achievement of the high-performing
countries who are currently out-educating us.
NCTM has been a leader in the standards movement for more than two decades.
The new common core math standards build on the work of your organization and are
closely aligned with your new Focus on High School initiative.
These standards have been adopted by 42 states, and teachers across the country will
need to change their practice to be aligned with them.
I know NCTM is working closely with other math groups to begin the hard work of turning
these standards into practice.
This will take time, and your leadership here is essential.
We need you as an organization and you as individuals to become leaders among
teachers and principals so all teachers and all schools have the tools and supports
necessary to make these standards come to life in the classroom.
We all know that standards aren't a panacea. We must couple them with the next
generation of assessments.
Today's tests don't measure higher-order thinking skills or deep understanding of subject
material. They focus primarily on computation and recall.
American students deserve better than the fill-in-the-bubble tests.

With $350 million available from the Race to the Top competition, the U.S. Department of
Education is supporting the state-led effort including 44 states to create the next
generation of math assessments that will be game-changers in education.
They will measure student achievement against the new standards and track whether
students are prepared for success in colleges and careers.
These assessments are the ones that you've longed for. They will measure critical
thinking skills and complex student learning.
These assessments will provide you with timely, high quality information that is
instructionally useful and documents student growth.
I want to thank Mike Shaughnessy for playing an important role in this process.
The expertise that NCTM and other math groups bring to the table is critical to ensuring
that these assessments build on what we know is possible for mathematics teaching and
The voice of the mathematics teacher needs to be heard loud and clear to make sure the
final products reflect what happens in the classroom.
New standards and assessments are a powerful combination. But they are not sufficient.
Teachers will need new tools and materials to make them work.
In the President's fiscal 2012 budget, President Obama has proposed $206 million to
support projects for teachers of mathematics and the other STEM subjects.
These projects will provide you with what you need to succeed by creating instructional
materials, identifying proven strategies, and providing professional development.
With new standards, assessments, and instructional materials, teachers will have the
tools necessary to ensure students have the mathematical knowledge to be ready to
complete college and succeed in their careers.
Our final challenge is to address the critical shortage of mathematics teachers and
improve the quality of teaching in the classroom.
The President has set a goal of preparing 100,000 new teachers over the next decade.
These teachers will have deep content knowledge and strong teaching skills in math and
science, engineering and technology, and his budget makes a significant investment in

We are asking Congress for $80 million in the Teachers and Leader Pathways program
to begin to reach this goal.
This program will support the creation or scaling up and expansion of high-quality
teacher preparation programs.
Because we know that math and science teachers require both deep understanding of
the subject matter and the instructional skills to thrive in the classroom, this program will
fund traditional programs as well as alternative routes.
The budget also includes a new scholarship program to recruit high-achieving college
students into teaching. With the Baby Boomer generation retiring, these recruitment
efforts are more important than ever.
The Presidential Teaching Fellows program would provide scholarships of up to $10,000
to the best students in the nation's most effective teacher preparation programs.
After receiving the scholarship, these candidates would commit to teaching for three
Over the past decade, we've seen the development of new programs that are designed
to recruit new teachers with deep content knowledge and instructional skills.
At the University of Texas, the UTEACH program has become a model by recruiting
high-achieving students in the math and sciences and preparing them to use these skills
in the classroom. It's a model that's been replicated across the country. Progress is
being made, but we have had a shortage of math and science teachers for decades. If
we are going to stop simply admiring the problem and solve the teacher shortage, we're
going to need to have a real conversation about teacher compensation.
Because graduates with strong math skills have lucrative opportunities in other
professions, our state and local districts need to provide financial incentives to draw
them into the classroom and keep them there.
Our federal dollars: School Improvement Grants, the Teacher Incentive Fund and others
can all be used to pay great math and science teachers more, especially in
disadvantaged communities.
As we seek to strengthen the teaching profession and get our students who need the
most help the teacher talent they need, I absolutely support paying mathematics
teachers more as a way to keep our best math teachers in the classroom and recruit a
new generation of talent.

In addition to recruiting new teachers, we need to help build the skills of those currently
in the classroom.
It's no secret that most existing professional development programs are disconnected
from the reality of the classroom. As a nation, we spend far too much money on
professional development that is not what you asked for, and that is not meeting your
needs. That must stop.
There are also examples of strong supportive professional development programs that
clearly demonstrate that investments in teacher supports can lead to increased student
I'm proud of our efforts systemwide in Chicago where our mathematics professional
development programs showed significant gains in student achievement based on
teacher participation and getting teacher input. Tracking this data and being very
transparent about it helped us improve our professional development efforts each year.
Across the country, we must focus on two areas. First, we need new tools and materials
for teachers to implement the new set of college- and career-ready common standards.
Second, we must build the capacity of school and district leaders who understand both
the teaching and learning of mathematics and also how to manage large support
I cannot stress enough how important this work is. I see it as I visit classrooms across
the country. Our children grow up so fast. The impact you are having on them is
extraordinary, even if that's sometimes hard to see day to day.
Today, they're learning their multiplication tables and struggling to solve polynomial
It won't be long, though, before they become the mechanics who repair airplanes, the
pilots who fly them, or the engineers who design them.
They will become medical technicians who take X-rays, nurses who administer dosages
of drugs, or doctors who perform surgeries.
Whatever they're doing five, or 10, or 20 years from now, the mathematics you are
teaching them today provides them with the foundation for their success and for the
long-term prosperity of our country.
Thank you for being the nation builders who are making that happen.