Standards-Based Instructional Materials
Context: Policies and Practices
This section focuses on a few contextual aspects of Chicago Public Schools and Chicago at large that influenced how the district thought about, planned for, and implemented the CMSI instructional materials.
Local Control and High Mobility
The 1988 Illinois School Reform Act granted each CPS school the autonomy and legal authority to decide what instructional materials to use in its classrooms. In 2002, many different instructional materials were employed in CPS’s roughly 500 elementary schools and 100 high schools. A survey by the then new Office of Mathematics and Science (OMS) found 86 different mathematics and 43 different science textbook series in use at elementary schools. It found a similar situation in the core high school mathematics and science courses: 55 biology, 47 chemistry, 31 physics, 25 earth and science, 28 environmental science, 34 algebra, 20 geometry, and 22 different trigonometry textbooks were identified.
The 2002 survey revealed that textbooks were “in use” in a very general way. Schools indicated that they used these texts, but it was not clear to what extent all teachers taught from these texts daily or whether teachers used them as supplemental materials. District leaders believed there was wide variation in textbook use within schools and across the district.
Student mobility was another significant factor in thinking about instructional materials in relation to systemic reform. Students attending Chicago public schools in 2002 were a highly mobile population. While the district mobility rate averaged 16%, some schools had yearly mobility rates as high as 50%. With so many different textbooks in use across CPS classrooms, students were at risk for classroom experiences that had little connection from one grade to the next. In addition, because textbooks are often associated with certain instructional practices and priorities, another one of the OMS goals for coherence in the use of standards-based instructional materials was to provide consistency and continuity in both instructional approaches and content. In this way, students would have the best opportunities to build concepts and skills aligned with national standards.
Curriculum Expertise in Chicago
In 2002, Chicago was home to a community rich in math and science curricula design and support specialists at local universities. The University of Illinois at Chicago Institute for Math and Science Education was home to the authors of the Math Trailblazers K-5 curriculum and also provided support to teachers, schools, and families. cite At the University of Chicago, the School Math Project was home to the authors of Everyday Mathematics for pre-K-6 students. The project also had NSF funding to support “educators, parents and students who are using, or will soon be using, Everyday Mathematics.” At Northwestern University, the Center for Learning Technologies in Urban Schools (LeTUS) was an NSF-funded Center for Collaborative Research on Learning Technologies. This center developed various science curricula and although the NSF grant that established the center ended in 2004, its work continued through other funding sources.
Other university expertise was also available in Chicago to support math and science K-12 instructional materials. DePaul University’s Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Center was home to mathematicians and scientists working with pre-service and practicing CPS teachers of math and science. At the University of Illinois at Chicago, a new Learning Sciences Research Institute opened in 2001. Jim Pellegrino, one of the authors of How People Learn (National Research Council (U.S.), et al., 1999) co-directed this institute. Another new group, the Center for Science and Math Education at Loyola University Chicago, began providing biology and physics workshops for teachers in 2001. In addition, numerous individual math and science faculty members and groups at these and other universities had been involved in CPS teacher education and participated on CPS instructional materials review committees.
Strategic Selection of Elementary School Instructional Materials
Charged with transforming math and science teaching and learning district-wide, OMS leaders studied the research literature and district issues and concluded that while any number of standards-based instructional materials could support good math and science instruction, the reform effort needed to recognize that:
- Because of high student mobility between schools, students would benefit if instructional materials were consistent between schools.
- Limited resources needed to be focused on instructional leadership expertise and assessment systems.
District leaders felt that mobile students encountering different instructional materials each time they changed grade levels or schools was a barrier to achievement. In addition, because schools were not using common instructional tools and materials, the district had been able to provide only generic professional development. This broad approach to professional development was not aligned to National Staff Development Council standards for high quality professional development and likely had only limited effect on teacher learning and student achievement. In addition, it was difficult to develop district-wide benchmark assessments that aligned well with instruction, since different students at the same grade level were exposed to different math and science content at different times of the year.
The OMS saw many advantages to the common use of instructional materials. Teachers could share tools and resources both within and across schools; participate in professional development closely tied to their specific materials, grade-level, and expertise level (e.g., new or experienced user); and network with peers who were implementing the same materials, using a common language and framework to discuss instruction and student learning.
District leaders also understood that by supporting a small set of materials, they could use limited resources in coherent and strategic ways. For example, the district developed mathematics benchmark assessments that were closely aligned to the instructional materials and classroom observation guides that supported student-centered instruction. In addition, teachers could use the district-provided instructional supports to help implement the CMSI-endorsed instructional materials and practices. These tools enabled teachers, principals, and instructional support staff to work with each other on changing the technical core of teachers’ work.
Having decided early in 2002-03 to ground reform efforts in the implementation of a small set of research-based instructional materials, OMS staff engaged in a three-month review of standards-based math and science instructional materials to choose the materials the district would support. Staff had the opportunity to both hear presentations by curriculum developers and use the materials. At the end of the three months, OMS staff selected two K-5, two 6-8 mathematics programs, and a single sequence of kit-based science programs, all developed with NSF funding, to become the CMSI-supported instructional materials. For primary level mathematics, OMS staff chose Everyday Math and Math Trailblazers. For middle grade math, they chose Connected Math and Math Thematics.
OMS staff defined a “Scope and Sequence” of science topics aligned with the Illinois state standards and assessment frameworks, and then identified elementary science instructional materials to support the Scope and Sequence. These science instructional materials were drawn from:
- FOSS (Full Option Science System),
- SEPUP (Science Education for Public Understanding Program),
- IES (Investigating Earth Systems), and
- STC (Science and Technology for Children).
The OMS provided opportunities to both elementary and high schools to learn about the district-supported instructional materials. All schools were encouraged to attend Instructional Materials Showcases and Technical Support Workshops. At these events, publishers and authors of CMSI-selected instructional materials shared information and demonstrated their products. The OMS offered the first of these sessions in winter 2003 to inform schools about the new CMSI plans and to allow schools to compare instructional materials side-by-side. The OMS offered these sessions again in winter 2004 to educate additional schools about the materials. [See pg. 27 of a related evaluation report].
Building Curricula through High School Transformation Proposals
The district selected instructional materials for elementary math and science classrooms and, initially, specified preferred textbooks for core high school math and science courses. However, by 2005 the Chicago Public Schools, in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, chose a different but related process to transform high school mathematics and science teaching and learning. CPS set out to commission new, integrated, three-year math and science instructional programs as part of the High School Transformation Project. As described in the Request for Proposals (RFP) solicitation to potential vendors, CPS sought three-year sequences of courses in mathematics and science that aligned concept and skill development from one year to the next. CPS planned to support a limited set of comprehensive programs known as an “instructional delivery systems” or “IDSs.” Each vendor responding to the RFP identified a three-year instructional approach that integrated knowledge and skill development in high school mathematics or science. Vendors of proposed science IDSs integrated and adapted instructional materials to address the biology, chemistry, physics, and earth sciences concepts and skills CPS students would learn across three years. Mathematics IDS vendors integrated and adapted instructional materials to address the algebra, geometry, and trigonometry concepts and skills. The National Science Foundation funded the development of many of the instructional materials incorporated into the proposed IDS programs. Proposed IDSs included extensive instructional supports in addition to the instructional materials for teachers and students. Supports included professional development for teachers and principals, an aligned set of psychometrically reliable and valid formative and summative assessments developed in partnership with American Institutes for Research (AIR), and in-classroom supports for teachers, including instructional coaches. IDS program funding also provided labware for the science IDSs.
CPS selected six math and science IDS providers: Illinois Institute of Technology (Science); Loyola-UIC (Science); Northwestern (Science); Agile Mind (Math) ; Cognitive Tutor (Math); EDC (Math). As of fall 2008, over one-third of the district’s high schools were implementing at least one high school IDS.