In-School Instructional Support

Context: Some Contextual Factors Affecting the In-school Instructional Support Strategy’s Design

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The Chicago Math & Science Initiative (CMSI) had to address several challenges as it designed its in-school instructional support strategy. These challenges came from the nature of CPS - its size, its financial reality, its decentralized management structure, and its history of school-based decision making. This section describes these district-level factors and how the design of the in-school instructional supports strategy addressed them.

One factor the strategy had to address was the reality of a very large school district with limited monetary resources available for supporting mathematics and science education reform. The CMSI needed to support a large number of schools with a limited number of people. OMS staff also knew from the district’s previous effort to implement a district-wide literacy initiative that a model of providing large scale, central office-based instructional support would not be viable over the long term. Planners addressed this through a phase-in design. Specifically, planners would introduce the CMSI—including its in-school instructional supports—in steps. In this way, the CMSI would provide comprehensive supports to a small set of schools (approximately 80) in the first year. These were Intensive Support, or IS, schools. Another small set of schools (approximately 50) would receive support to prepare them for future intensive support. These were Readiness schools. In the phase-in design, additional schools would follow this preparation and implementation cycle. Through this phase-in approach, the CMSI planned to maximize its limited monetary resources. It allocated the bulk of its instructional support funds to place an “in-school specialist” in each IS school. It used a smaller amount of resources to hire “facilitators” to support the school-based specialists. Area-based coaches would support all other schools. The initial vision of OMS leaders was that individual schools would be willing to invest their own funds in these supports after experiencing their value.

CPS’ history of site-based management contributed to another major challenge for the CMSI designers. In 2002, there were over 120 different mathematics and science textbooks in elementary schools throughout the district. The district did not have a base of expertise supporting any of these materials. The OMS intended to support the use of a select group of instructional materials, but did not have the in-house expertise to do that. To address this, the OMS hired individuals from throughout the Chicago math and science education community to serve as OMS-based facilitators. The OMS designated a small number of facilitators to become experts in each set of CMSI-selected instructional materials.

A third contextual factor also involved CPS’s decentralized structure. No central office, such as the Office of Mathematics and Science, directly managed individual schools. Rather, groups of schools comprised “areas,” and area instruction officers (AIOs) were responsible for the performance of schools within their area. This decentralization presented a challenge to the instructional supports strategy in terms of how OMS, housed at a central office level, could provide management level support to all schools. OMS addressed this issue through a partnership with the 24 CPS area offices. Areas agreed to staff and fund a cadre of math and science coaches, known as “area coaches,” who OMS would deploy to support the CMSI within each area. Each area hired and funded its own coach and collaborated with the OMS related to these coaches’ work.