By Joe Dostilio & Laurie Speranzo

Institute for Learning

The Institute for Learning (IFL) at the University of Pittsburgh received a planning grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to partner with Canutillo Independent School District, Fabens Independent School District, and Tornillo Independent School District, all of which are in the El Paso area of Texas, to design a multi-year plan for each district for implementing a high-quality mathematics curriculum. The goal is to develop a multi-year plan for each district that will lead to coherent instructional systems that result in deeper mathematics learning for sixth through eighth grade students.

Rosa Apodaca, Executive Director for the IFL, talked about the excitement of working with the districts. “We look forward to learning together with educators who deeply understand their common challenges and who lead with a growth mindset as they see themselves in their students. We appreciate their sincere engagement, examination of data, and responsiveness with unique solutions to issues that are common to all three. Their quest for bringing joy to learning is palpable.”

To design each district’s plan, the IFL and the school districts will form a network and work together to engage students, parents, teachers, and district leaders in an asset analysis and equity audit around each district’s math instruction.

Ivonne Durant, IFL District & School Leadership & Emergent Multilingual Learner Fellow, emphasized the importance of bringing the three small districts together with the IFL to form a network. “Our network approach gives the three school districts a common vision with space, resources, and peer ideas to collaborate and support each other’s work.”

Laurie Speranzo, IFL Mathematics Fellow and Lead Designer on the project, noted the importance of student and teacher voice and engagement in putting together each district’s implementation plan. “It is critical that we start from the assets of the teachers and students. Each of the districts has fantastic work happening; we have to leverage what is working well and help the teachers build on that. Students’ math thinking and their lived math experiences should be the center of every classroom and the partnerships with the districts will allow learning from the students as we move their math experiences forward.

Interviews, surveys, and classroom visits and artifacts will continue to be analyzed throughout the planning phase and, if funded, the implementation phase to ensure students, caregivers and community members, and teachers have voice throughout. Chris Schunn, LRDC Senior Scientist and IFL Co-Director, highlighted the important role of strategic data in the plan for implementation. “Too often, historically marginalized communities are asked to implement plans without regard for their assets and needs. We will work regularly with stakeholders to understand where they are and continuously adapt the implementation plan.”

The IFL is one of 10 organizations partnering with school districts to design plans for Phase 2 implementation funding to be submitted to the Gates Foundation in June 2021. The organization-school district partnerships funded by the Gates Foundation for Phase 2 will continue on in the foundation’s Effective Implementation Cohort with the goal of identifying reliable, practical evidence and measures to apply in planning and implementing district-wide high-impact math improvement initiatives. Joe Dostilio, IFL Mathematics Fellow and Principal Investigator on the grant, talked about the importance of being part of the cohort. “Our district partners are not large districts. There is a lot of opportunity in bringing them together not only to work in a network amongst each other but also in the Effective Implementation Cohort. The work of the cohort has great potential for identifying what is needed to support rigorous mathematics teaching and learning.”        

The rest of the team involved in the planning grant include the following: 

  • Beatriz Strawhun, IFL Mathematics & Bilingual Education Fellow
  • Carol Chestnut, IFL Mathematics Content Developer
  • Aaron Anthony, IFL Director of Analytics and Operations
  • Rip Correnti, LRDC Research Scientist