University Courses on
Mathematics and Science Content Knowledge

Aims, Actions, Adaptations:
Meeting Workforce Needs for Content Knowledge

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Scale of University-Based Programs

CPS teachers had the opportunity to take university math and science content courses at no or reduced cost beginning in 2001-2002 with eight pilot courses. After the Chicago Math & Science Initiative (CMSI) reconfigured the program in 2003, an estimated 500 new teachers enrolled annually in hundreds of math and science courses, specially created and taught for their benefit.

The largest part of this effort centered on middle grades mathematics, the area in which CPS had the greatest shortfall of qualified teachers in 2002. Middle grades mathematics endorsement programs accounted for 73% of the enrollments in approved university courses from 2001-2006. Across the participating universities, middle grades endorsement programs typically included 24 hours of coursework, 18 hours of which were content-specific. In other words, teachers who had not completed any endorsement-related courses had to take eight three-semester-hour courses to qualify for a middle grades endorsement.

Data available as of January 2007 indicated that, within all of the Chicago Public Schools (~18,000 elementary-level teachers), only 259 elementary teachers gained math endorsements between 2003 and 2006. Sixty-two percent of these teachers (141 teachers) took at least one university class subsidized by the CPS Office of Math and Science (OMS) between 2001 and 2006. To better understand why such a small number of enrolled, retained teachers gained endorsement, future studies will analyze the paths these teachers took to becoming endorsed by matching enrollments and endorsements at the individual teacher level.

In 2008, CPS estimated that at least 100 additional math and 50 additional science middle grades endorsed teachers were needed for schools to comply with NCLB requirements and the new district Specialization policy, a policy adopted to ensure that middle grades were staffed by properly credentialed teachers.

Variation in Teacher Preparedness

Since the initial 2000-2003 design and pilot phase of CUSP math and science courses for elementary and middle grades teachers, faculty teaching these courses have described struggling with teachers’ varied levels of preparation in math and science. The low levels of preparation of some teachers conflicted with teaching “college-level” and “graduate-level” mathematics and science courses. Faculty who designed and taught these courses were respectful of enrolled teachers, even if their math or science skills were not strong. Some faculty spoke about treating the teachers with “dignity” and working with them to “reconstruct themselves as learners” of the content fundamentals. Some chose to not grade homework or give tests so that teachers would be “happy and relaxed” and learn more that way. Other faculty expressed “dismay” that even after they adapted their course to address teachers’ low level of content knowledge, some teachers complained about doing homework and did not do “college-level” work. Faculty perspectives on this topic were consistent when comparing evaluation data from 2003-2004 with views from 2007-2008.

Motivating factors for teacher enrollment shifted from 2004 to 2007. In 2003-2004, more teachers enrolled because of an intrinsic interest in better teaching math and science. In 2007, the teachers were more likely to enroll to gain endorsements to keep their jobs. These teachers often needed more supports in the courses than their peers had needed to be successful in 2004. In 2007 and 2008, CPS OMS staff and university partner representatives discussed ways to better address the wide range of teacher preparedness in math and science. They considered entrance tests prior to acceptance into CMSI-supported programs, remedial courses, and clear articulation of the prerequisite knowledge needed to succeed in each course.

Measuring Improvements in Content Knowledge.

While the improvement of teacher content knowledge was a primary goal of the Chicago effort to reform math and science K-12 education, it has been difficult to measure and document. Neither during the earlier 2000-2003 CUSP efforts led by Northwestern University nor during the later efforts of the OMS, have teacher outcomes been systematically collected district-wide. While tuition funding had been contingent on teachers earning at least a “B” in the course, no CPS department was responsible for monitoring grades. As long as universities officially enrolled CPS teachers, their tuitions were paid. District leaders expressed concern that some teachers may have failed, or stopped attending, university courses, but their enrollment alone triggered district tuition payment to the university. In 2007-2008 the district began collecting grades in a more systematic fashion.

Interestingly, because a number of the universities have sought and received grant funding from state or private agencies, they were required to document teacher content learning and often used pre- and post-testing in their programs. For example, courses funded by ISBE IMSP grants must report pre- and post-testing data to both the state and the federal departments of education. OMS did not regularly request these data, although many universities shared these data anyway.

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