At Phoenix Academy located in southwest Detroit, children in Ms. Tanner’s Level 3 class are busy learning math. In one corner of the room, a half dozen students are sitting at computers. Over on the right, a small group of students are sitting on the floor with the teacher at the center. In the middle of the room, some students work in pairs, while others work independently. This is a typical classroom for the Education Achievement Authority of Michigan (EAAM), a state-run recovery district which takes over persistently failing schools, and which is currently managing 15 schools in Detroit. The mission of the new public system is to disrupt traditional public schooling and provide a prototype for 21st-century learning.
When the administrators in this urban district heard about ST Math, a unique software program developed by the nonprofit MIND Research Institute, they knew it would fit right in with their model. EAAM uses a student-centered system of teaching and learning, designed to meet each child where they are, explains Mary Esselman, deputy chancellor for instructional support and educational accountability. As a year-round district, students in EAAM—who are 99 percent African-American with a vast majority eligible for free or reduced-price lunch—are grouped by readiness rather than grades. Students go through an individualized learning path, using a blended delivery model that includes information acquired from the teacher, technology, their peers and their own inquiries. Rather than being promoted to the next grade at the end of the school year like at a typical K12 school, students here must demonstrate mastery to move on to the next level. Math plus critical thinking The district is just two years old, but is already making strides, particularly in math. “We have nine K8 schools where, previously, only 2 percent of the students were proficient in math, and most were three, four and five years below grade level,” Esselman recalls. “We needed to provide a way to accelerate student learning and bridge those gaps. ST Math is one of the digital assets we are using, and it’s contributing to our success.”
John Covington, chancellor of EAAM, first saw a MIND Research Institute presentation at the District Administration Leadership Institute Superintendents Summit in La Jolla, Calif., in the Spring of 2013. “John was attracted to the program and how it develops critical thinking along with key math skills,” says Esselman. “We thought it was a good fit because it focused on a 21st-century approach to math with an emphasis on masmastery, so we asked the MIND Research Institute to come and present to our principals.” The presentation was well received, and EAAM conducted a pilot of ST Math with Levels 1-6, the equivalent of K2 classes (each year represents two levels). Because there was so much positive feedback during the pilot, the district rolled ST Math out to six additional schools last September, and teachers received additional professional development training to ensure that students get the most out of the program. In this self-paced learning environment, while some students are working on ST Math, others can be working with the teacher. The data EAAM collects from programs like ST Math help to determine which groups the teacher works with, and which students work independently or in pairs.
Something EAAM administrators liked right away about ST Math was its flexibility. “One of the things we look for in our partners is that they not come in and expect to do things the way they’ve always been done, but instead look at our model and say, ‘This is how we can help you,’” says Esselman. “Our model is a little different from the traditional way that ST Math is used, because we don’t have computer labs. But the way we use it—with students working in various groups based on what’s best for them—has worked out very well for us.” Currently, ST Math is used in six K8 schools at the district, which range from 400 to 850 students each. Teachers are asked to do an extended math program of one-and-a-half to two hours, spending about 30 minutes of that time on ST Math. The rest is spent with manipulatives and small group instruction. “Overall, we’re seeing phenomenal results in mathematics, and ST Math is a big part of that,” Esselman says. “We’re in the middle of our second benchmark test, and the majority of students have had two or more years of growth. And this year, quite a few students have already met the requirements, even though we’re only mid-year.” A key driver of the progress in mathematics at the district is the ability of ST Math to target the right type of learning tool and experience to each student’s particular need, Esselman says. “We have identified 12 next-generation competencies we want our students to achieve, including math, cultural confidence and critical thinking. In addition to math, ST Math emphasizes critical thinking, and that has been really valuable to us.”
For more information, go to http://www.mindresearch.org.