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Roadblocks and Routes: Professional Development in Math in Common Districts

by Frances Reade; Rebecca Perry; Stacy Marple

Jan 1, 2019

In their proposals to join the Math in Common (MiC) initiative, staff from each of the 10 participating districts acknowledged that the shifts required to implement the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSS-M) (NGA Center & CCSSO, 2010) would be a huge lift for teachers. They knew that mathematics teachers would be required to take up new, sometimes foreign ways of doing their work with students. Learning to provide useful, impactful professional development (PD) to support teachers in this process would become a primary focus of MiC.

Unfortunately, even before the challenge of supporting teachers' classroom instruction to implement the new, demanding standards, teacher PD had been shown to be only minimally impactful (Garet, Porter, Desimone, Birman, & Yoon, 2001; Garet et al., 2001; Gersten, Taylor, Keys, Rolfhus, & Newman-Gonchar, 2014). Because of teachers' very different experiences and expertise, districts can find challenges in providing the types of support that all teachers want, need, and find useful, and that will ultimately have positive impacts on student achievement. With regard to the CCSS-M, an even larger challenge was the scale of the shifts. The new standards meant that staff at every level of each district system, regardless of their experience, would need to build new understandings about mathematics content and about teaching and learning -- teachers as they supported their students, coaches and principals as they supported teachers, and district staff as they supported coaches and principals.

In working to build the understandings of all of these different staff groups about implementing the CCSS-M, districts faced several common "roadblock" conditions -- specific challenges related to how to provide effective, scalable PD to staff, administrators, and teachers in support of CCSS-M implementation. Despite the challenges that they presented, these roadblocks also created rich environments for innovation, problem solving, and learning across the MiC community of practice.

This report describes some of the more common roadblocks that MiC districts faced in their early years of CCSS-M implementation, and routes that the districts took around the roadblocks in order to support teacher and student learning. These descriptions of district PD efforts are not meant to provide comprehensive reporting of all PD offerings across all 10 MiC districts over the five-year initiative. Moreover, districts may have, and probably did, take multiple other routes to bypass similar roadblocks. However, we hope that other districts can learn from and adapt some of the more widely adopted and successful routes taken in the MiC districts. This report also includes brief vignettes, in The View from the Field text boxes, of districts' practices, to more clearly illustrate some of these roadblocks and the routes around them.