Math in Common® is a seven-year initiative (2013–20) funded by the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation supporting diverse California school districts as they implement the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSS-M) across grades K–8. Ten districts received Math in Common grants: Dinuba, Elk Grove, Garden Grove, Long Beach, Oakland, Oceanside, Sacramento City, San Francisco, Sanger, and Santa Ana. Collectively, these districts serve almost 300,000 K–8 schoolchildren and serve 9 percent more low-income students and 6 percent more English learner students than the average for schools statewide. Two districts, Garden Grove and Long Beach, concluded their grants in Summer 2018; the other districts continue in the initiative’s second phase ending in 2020.
In addition to supporting each district’s unique strategy for implementing the standards, grants support all districts’ participation in a joint community of practice through which participants learn with and from each other and from experts in the field. As explained in more detail below, WestEd’s role in working with this community of practice includes identifying, distilling, and sharing lessons learned about effective implementation.
What Are Some Early Lessons About CCSS-M Implementation?
WestEd’s frequent formative evaluation reports on trends and challenges in the participating districts provide valuable information to the Math in Common community, its funders, and a wider audience of policymakers across the state. Report topics have included choices in the sequencing of math courses, the increasing use of site-specific professional learning structures for teachers, the role of principals as instructional leaders, and the adaptation and adoption of instructional materials. Collectively, district efforts and experiences highlighted in these reports suggest several factors that appear to be particularly useful in their standards implementation efforts:
- Districts’ shift toward greater support for site-specific professional learning allows for tailored capacity-building based on school needs. Professional learning that occurs at a teacher’s school during or after the school day, that focuses on lessons, and that includes coaching as well as ongoing collaboration with peers is more likely to generate classroom change than one-time, centralized, and decontextualized trainings.
- Support that is embedded in the classroom can deepen teacher, coach, and principal understanding and mastery of math content and high-leverage instructional practices (e.g., use of high-cognitive-demand tasks to facilitate rigorous student academic discourse). Whether through coaching or through group observation, embedded support enables site-based educators to engage in shared reflection about instruction. By doing so, it serves as a lever for change at the classroom and school levels.
- Principals are vital instructional managers and agents for change. These school leaders are learning the key elements needed to support effective CCSS-M instruction and to build their own site-specific learning community focused on standards implementation. Site leader effectiveness is enhanced through professional learning supports that include developing their ability to recognize standards in classroom practice.
- Coaches are important drivers of success. They augment principals’ leadership at sites and support teachers in planning, modeling lessons, and co-teaching — while also helping establish expectations for results.
- Aligned curricula and instructional materials are essential but not sufficient for shifting instruction. Educators need supports and guidance to use these resources effectively.
Subsequent Math in Common reports will continue to follow the progress of the initiative and participating districts.
How Does Math in Common Work?
Designed by California Education Partners, the Math in Common community of practice supports each member district in developing, updating, and executing its continuous improvement plan for implementation of the CCSS-M in grades K–8.
Grounded in the latest research on mathematics education and education improvement, the initiative aims to build leadership capacity within each district and to support the broad Math in Common community of practice as its members discuss effective strategies, address common challenges, and exchange tools and lessons learned about standards implementation.
The following strategies are used both to support professional learning in each district and to facilitate cross-district sharing of ideas:
- Two-day convenings, held three times each year, engage four to eight key participants from each district, including assistant superintendents, directors of curriculum and instruction, district-level math staff, and school principals. The work is strengthened and sustained by the participation of a stable team from each district, with that team’s membership representing both top decision-making authority and boots-on-the-ground implementation experience.
- Workshops, led by expert presenters and the districts themselves, focus on common problems of practice (e.g., lesson study, principal training, strategies for improving high-quality student mathematical discourse, using state assessment data for improvement). Workshops frequently involve opportunities for districts to visit each other, with hosting districts showcasing their implementation activities.
- Summer professional development sessions are offered to develop the instructional leadership capacity of site-based educators, including principals, assistant principals, and mathematics coaching staff. These sessions share what has been learned through the cross-district community of practice with a broader audience from each district.
- Expert technical assistance is provided by request to each district leadership team to help with unique questions and challenges and to solve local problems of practice.
While Math in Common was designed to support each district’s unique implementation strategies, the collective work carried out through the community of practice has moved participating districts toward some common approaches to continuous improvement, including:
Adopting a systems lens. The California math standards demand deep and broad shifts in classroom instruction. Math in Common districts have come to see that to enact these deep shifts, teachers need a coherent system of supports provided by many different people and structures in the district. Individually and together, members of the Math in Common community of practice often focus on mapping their district systems and structures (including professional development for teachers and principals; coaching programs; supports for special populations of students, such as English learners; and curriculum) and realigning them to work coherently toward a shared vision of effective mathematics education.
Building a culture of learning and improvement. Efforts to strengthen systems tap into the talents of teachers, principals, and district administrators, building confidence and engagement in ongoing learning. In their improvement work, districts are testing theories of change, using data to inform decision-making, examining relationships between district programs and policies and student outcomes, and capturing and applying learning across schools.
What Does WestEd Do for Math in Common?
WestEd serves as the initiative’s formative evaluator, focusing on four central themes:
- Shifts in teachers’ instructional approaches
- Changes in students’ proficiency in mathematics
- Change management processes at the school district level
- The development and sustainability of the Math in Common Community of Practice
As evaluator, WestEd publishes frequent reports on particular challenges and trends observed in districts across the Math in Common community, giving participants and the wider field timely and relevant snapshots of standards implementation as it unfolds. WestEd also conducts research and provides formative feedback on the functioning of the community of practice as a whole.
When the Math in Common community or its individual districts need help on a particular issue, WestEd connects them with experts in the agency who provide technical assistance in many forms: through consultations and ongoing improvement projects with districts; by hosting learning experiences and workshops at the convenings and as standalone sessions; and through close relationships that develop over time, allowing WestEd staff to serve as thought partners for the district teams.
What Does California Education Partners Do for Math in Common?
Education Partners designs and facilitates the Math in Common community of practice. Its approach combines the latest research in human development and school improvement with a deeply practical and applied understanding of the realities that teachers, principals, and administrators face every day. With this unique perspective, the organization is developing and sharing a powerful model for sustained collaborative improvement in schools. Education Partners helps educators design, reflect on, and refine improvement efforts in three domains:
- Cultivating an improvement culture to empower educators to do their best work for students
- Helping educators develop, use, and share a comprehensive suite of processes, structures, and tools to better serve students
- Growing powerful cross-system and expert partnerships to deepen expertise and leverage learning across systems, to make sure students have access to the most rigorous, relevant, and enriching learning experience possible
The Math in Common community of practice is one of Education Partners’ most mature collaborations and is, thus, a pioneer in the field of collaborative cross-district improvement.
California Education Partners Math in Common
S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation
Selected district partners*:
San Francisco Unified School District
Sanger Unified School District
Long Beach Unified School District
Sacramento City Unified School District
*Please contact other participating districts for more information.