Raising the Floor: How Structures for Opportunity are Used in Classrooms that Teach Students in the Bottom Quartile

On-screen:  [ETS®. Listening. Learning. Leading.]

Speakers: Michael Nettles, ETS®; Walt MacDonald, President & CEO, ETS®, Bob Moses, Algebra Project; Petra Falcon, Executive Director, Promise Arizona; David Sciarra, Education Law Center; Jon Rochkind, Senior Director of Administration for the Policy Evaluation Research Center; Nell Cobb, DePaul University; Gina Greenidge, Miami Northwestern High School; Kate Belin, Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, Bronx, NY; Marcus Hung, June Jordan School for Equity, San Francisco, CA

Speaker: Michael Nettles - Thank you Michael. My job this morning is really to introduce our president, CEO Walt MacDonald. Walt?

Speaker: Walt MacDonald - Thank you, Michael. My job is to introduce Bob Moses in a minute. I've been at ETS® for 32 years, and I've been the president and CEO for the past, I guess, for almost the past two years. During that time, I've tried to re-center ETS® around our mission. The mission is why we exist at ETS®. Our mission is to help advance quality and equity in education around the world. That's a phenomenal mission. We've taken a look at that. We've done a kind of introspective look at our mission to make sure that — we've been here for 68 years. That's been our mission all along, and we sort of take it for granted.

I wanted to make sure when I came on board that we were actually really working — everything we do needs to be directed towards achieving the mission if it is why we exist. We've done that. We've formed a council on the mission from people from within ETS®, the leadership of ETS®, the staff of ETS®, and also people from the outside. We went through that. Being a measurement organization, we looked at everything we do and we rated it. We evaluated all the things we do around our mission. Some things we're going to stop, and some things we're going to double down on. That's our future.

This is one of the areas here today is what we want to double down on. We really think that the bottom quartile of kids have had a lifetime of opportunity denied, not appropriate attention paid to them. You're all here, so I know that this is high on your agenda. I'm really preaching to the choir here, but there are more than 10 million kids out there who are in the bottom quartile in K-12 education, who haven't had a break, who haven't had appropriate attention. We need to focus more on that. We need to be able to give them more opportunities. We need to be able to have them come out of education where they can get a good start in life, be productive citizens, be able to raise a family, be able to contribute to society, be able to vote. That's another important thing we need today and will need in the future.

I want to thank you all for coming here. You've got a great agenda. I want to thank Bob for helping to come up with the idea to do this. This has been a passion of his for a long time. He's a phenomenal crusader for the bottom quartile and a lot of things in life. Again, I just want to thank you all for coming. I'm going to turn it over to Bob to talk about what we're going to do next. Thank you very much, and thank you for coming.


Speaker: Bob Moses - We are here with our different institutions, but we want to try to get a larger sense of who we are. I'm going to ask Petra to come up. Is Petra here? Then I'm going to ask us to circle up. Everyone will have to stand. We can't get a circle, but we can get a good oblong or something. If everyone will stand and circle up. Everybody should be facing the inside, so you're looking at each other. Yes, you can come join us up here. We want to be part of the circle, so people could come —

Speaker: Female - We could actually hold hands.

Speaker: Bob Moses - We're going to do two things. First, we're going to listen to a song by Bernice Johnson Reagon, called "Room in the Circle."

[Music plays.] [0:05:00]

Speaker: Bob Moses - The circle of the country, who the people are in the country that take responsibility for the country, we can think of the document that says who those people are as the Preamble. The important thing about the Preamble is that it doesn't say, and couldn't say, "We, the President," or, "We, the Congress," or, "We, the Supreme Court." Those institutions didn't exist when they gathered to write the Constitution. It doesn't say, "We, the Citizens," because the whole idea of who the citizens are had to be worked out. It could have said, "We, the citizens of the several states," and if it had said that, we would be a very different country. [0:10:00]

It just said, "We, the People." I asked Petra to come, and I'm going to ask her to say a few words about who she is because what the Preamble does, it opens up a constitutional space for people who are undocumented in this country to enter into the constitutional conversation. I'm going to ask us, when Petra finishes, to say together and affirm the Preamble. When we do it, there's what the Preamble says, and that's one thing, but I want us to focus on what it does. The Preamble actually creates a class of people in the country, the constitutional people, the people who can enter into the constitutional conversation.

Speaker: Petra Falcon - I'm so honored and humbled. I'm Petra Falcon, and I'm the executive director of an organization we named Promise Arizona during the height of the anti-hate/racism law of SB-1070 in Arizona. SB-1070 was dubbed the "show me your papers" law. It was just an ugly, ugly part of Arizona's history. I happen to be a native Arizonan. Actually, I'm a fourth-generation American. I did grow up on welfare. I tell people that I organized myself out of poverty, but I have been an organizer most of my adult life. That's how I've crossed paths with Mr. Moses. The last 20 years of my life has been focused on immigrant rights.

I did live and work on both sides of the border for 13 years, in Arizona, where I really saw the guts and the ills of a broken immigration system. Promise Arizona has been focused on building a political voice for immigrants and Latinos in Arizona. We've registered well over 50,000 new voters since 2010. But most recently, it has been about what I call opening the doors for undocumented people. That's what brings me here, is how can I think with you all? Not only is it the language of English, but also the language of math that I think will develop the pathways for giving access for undocumented people.

Undocumented people, people of color, I always refer back to what has brought me to this calling, to this work, is Genesis 1, which is, "We are all created in the image of God." Much like we have a Constitution that we, the people, have unalienable rights, but we know that undocumented people, people without papers, people of color, people without education are cast into a future of what we call current-day slavery. For undocumented people, it means that they live in fear every day of their life. Whether you're a child or an adult, you know what fear is. You know what hunger of justice is, and we need to change that. I'm so, so happy that I'm here because I think I'm going to learn a great, great deal from all of you.

Speaker: Bob Moses - I'll say it; anyone wants to say it with me, and then repeat it. We, the People of the United States — that wasn't so good. Let's try it again. We, the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. I'm asking that we think of ourselves as that collective "We" as we go about our business today. Thank you very much.


Speaker: Michael Nettles - Good morning again, everybody. Let me just say — I want to thank Walt MacDonald for his opening remarks and for being here this morning. [0:15:02] Walt said that he had worked here at ETS® for 32 years now. I remember him, over most of his career — we started working here the same year. I left and came back. We started working here the same year, but Walt has done almost every job at ETS®, and he continues to find new ones. You saw him working on the microphones this morning. While he's here this morning, and during the break, I invite you to say hello to Walt, let him know who you are, ask him anything you want to — he's handing out his business cards up here.

He's genuinely committed to supporting the kind of activities and work that we're trying to engage in here. I just want to thank you for your leadership and your colleagueship. There are a few people here who I want to recognize. First of all, I've got a few colleagues here — I see Tom Van Essen. Tom is in the research and development division. He's working closely with us to get proposals out to try to expand the work. Many of you met Randy Bennett last night. Randy heads up a major area of research and development here at ETS®. He's responsible for helping us think about the future, developing the future of assessment.

Many of you all heard about CBAL last night, but it's really the foundational work for the future of the way we're thinking about K-12 assessment. He'll be working more closely with The Algebra Project and people on the issues of the bottom quartile. I'm missing some other colleagues, Caroline Wiley, other folks, but please forgive me, I can't see everybody.

People from the Urban League, we have a long-standing relationship with the National Urban League. Several people from the affiliates are here. I see T. Willard from Miami. Could you guys stand up, please, so people can see who you are? These people come from different cities in the country, and they're joining with us in thinking about how to engage The Algebra Project and that agenda into the work that we do with equity and excellence in education in the U.S.

There are other people I know I'm going to forget to mention, but I want to now bring David Sciarra up. David is a close friend of ours at ETS®. He's the president of the Education Law Center. He's just a phenomenal person, who's had a great deal of success on behalf of disadvantaged children in the State of New Jersey. Many of us may not know, but the state of New Jersey has the longest standing litigation on school finance in the country. It goes back to the late '60s. It was started by David's predecessor, Marilyn Morheuser, who led the work there in ELC for many years, and then David took over as president in 2000. People may know Steven Trachtenberg (sp? 0:18:31) and other folks who've been involved in the case. David's had phenomenal success in the state of New Jersey for the Abbott districts. Those are the 32 poorest districts in the state. He may not even talk about the case this morning. I hope he doesn't, because one thing you learn about David is that if he gets passionate about a topic, we won't be able to sit him down.

His job this morning is to talk to us about our day, but I can't help but ask him to make a couple of comments about why he's excited about this. He helped us to form the agenda that's responsible for a lot of interaction. He and Bob Moses and Jon Rochkind and I spent a lot of time on the phone over the last month trying to bring this day together, so David, thank you for being here.


Speaker: David Sciarra - Good morning, everybody. Thank you, Michael, and Walt, thank you for being here and for you and ETS®'s incredible support for educational equity. ETS® has the mission of advancing educational equity for all children in the United States. Walt and his colleagues — I've been involved with them for many years — take that extraordinarily seriously. That's why we're all here today, so thank you, Walt. [0:20:00] It's been an honor to work with Bob a little bit and try to help out to pull this together. My job is very brief this morning, which is to walk you through what we're going to do today.

The focus here, Bob talks about the bottom quartile. Many of us who've worked in this field for years — and there's so many people who have in this room. This is about our nation's most disadvantaged, at-risk public school children and whether the systems that we've put in place are responding to them, and what do we need to do to have them be more responsive? That's the focus of today. What we've done is to try to have the conversations start at the ground, and then work their way up, thinking about systems, the public school systems that are controlled by the 50 states across the country. We're going to start out this morning, Bob and his folks from the various schools that he's working in are going to take us through the work that they're doing in classrooms and schools.

That's the first level of discussion this morning. They're going to talk about their incredible work in those classrooms and schools to bring those disadvantaged kids better opportunities. I know they're going to be talking about some of the structural barriers that inhibit them to bring those practices to scale. That's the morning. We're going to transition with an exciting keynote from David Kirp from the University of California, Berkeley, who's going to come in. I'm excited about it because David, out of nowhere, wrote an incredible book about the success of urban school districts in New Jersey, which don't get a lot of attention — in this case, Union City, New Jersey — called Improbable Scholars a couple of years ago. If you haven't read it, I would recommend it to you.

It's really about how a high-poverty district can bring the type of classroom level and school level strategies and initiatives that Bob and his incredible team will talk about to scale across a high-poverty school district. We're going to talk, also, a little bit about the preconditions, the essential foundational conditions that need to be in place in these districts to make that happen. In the afternoon, we're going to transition into talking about some state-level issues, from school finance to the current crop of reforms that are going on in states, such as achievement districts, charter schools, things like that, and focus on four states: Massachusetts, Mississippi, Georgia, and New Jersey.

I'm leaving you with two takeaways that we would hope that you bring to the table. There's such incredible experience in this room from people who have worked in this field in many different ways, from lawyers to advocates to organizers to practitioners. We're asking that you participate in two ways. One is to let us learn throughout the day the lessons and the challenges and the obstacles and what we can do about them as we go forward today in a positive way about raising educational opportunities for our nation's most vulnerable public schoolchildren.

Lastly, we really hope that you contribute. We want this to be a working day. I know Bob does, Michael, and all of us, where we're engaged as a community for a brief period of time to talk about what do we do about these urgent and compelling problems that affect the kids we most care about every single day. Michael, I'm not sure who I turn this over to. Give it back to Bob or John?

Speaker: Jonathan Rochkind - Thank you, David. We're going to transition now to our first panel. I'm Jon Rochkind, by the way. I'm the senior director of administration for the Policy Evaluation Research Center. I work with Michael. We're going to transition now to our first panel, Inside the School Walls, which I'm very excited about. We're going to have a few teachers who work within schools and within The Algebra Project. [0:25:00]

Let me introduce Nell Cobb, who will be the moderator. Nell Cobb has been with The Algebra Project since 1991. She is associate chair at DePaul University School of Education. Nell is a fantastic teacher, a fantastic professional developer. I've had the opportunity to work with Nell, I want to say, on about three occasions. My favorite is a webinar that she did for us on behalf of Lehman College with some work that we were doing with first-year teachers and induction services there. Nell did such a phenomenal job of taking The Algebra Project experiential learning five-step curricular process, which makes a lot of sense after you've seen it and learned it and really been able to experience it, but to be able to condense that down into 90 minutes for first-year teachers who are doing a great job, but certainly are facing new obstacles they've never seen before, working in the Bronx, in New York City, was fantastic. We got a lot of good feedback from that. I really thank you, and I know they thank you for that.

Speaker: Nell Cobb - Good morning. Our panel is Inside the School Walls: How Structures for Opportunity are Used in Classrooms that Teach Students in the Bottom Quartile. With The Algebra Project, we're always thinking about creating a space for teachers. Our distinguished panel here is a combination of teachers, of community leaders, and mathematics educators. I have to just say that a few years ago I received a call from Bob Moses saying that they were writing an NSF grant. He wanted me to work with the teachers around developing teacher resources. That particular phone call led to a path that I was really exposed to some of the best and brightest teachers across the country. We have a few of these represented here today.

I'd like to introduce to you first Gina Greenidge. Gina is from Miami Northwestern High School in Miami, Florida. Gina previously directed — and I have to read this — the Education Effect, a community-university partnership between Florida International University and schools in the Liberty City community of Miami, Florida. While coordinating this program for parentship, she developed a link that involved The Algebra Project and parents. Her work with AP has led her to the parent organizing in Liberty City with parent and community, Regina Davis, an IOU organization. Currently, Gina is pursuing her PhD in educational leadership at Florida Atlanta University. Her dissertation interest is parent engagement in college choice for matriarchal, single-parent families in south Florida. Gina's going to be our first panelist to speak.

I'm going to go through and introduce all of the panelists first. Our second panelist is Kate Belin. Kate is a mathematics education person. She calls herself a mathematics teacher, but she's a math educator. She lives and works in New York City. She teaches eleventh and twelfth grade at Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, a small, project-based learning public school in the South Bronx, where she has been since 2005. [0:30:01] Kate began working with The Algebra Project geometry materials in 2008. Kate was a part of that grant for the (teacher?) resource materials. She actually worked with geometry, with David Henderson. Most of you met him last night. She piloted some of the units in her classroom. Since then, she has worked with the lead writer of the materials throughout their development, with the teacher resource materials team, and as a trainer for the geometry materials. She has also taught as an adjunct professor at Bard College and CUNY City College. Kate is a two-time recipient of Math for America's master teacher fellowship, and she is an active member of MFA's professional community. Additionally, Kate is a New York State master teacher and recipient of the Sloan Award of Excellence in Teaching Science and Mathematics. In January 2016, she will travel to Botswana for a Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teacher grant. Kate.

Our next person on the panel is Kelly Gattis (sp? 0:31:21). Kelly is a math educator and school consultant who works with teachers, schools, and districts to improve curriculum assessment and learning. She led the redesign of the school-wide math curricula and project-based assessments at Fannie Lou Hamer High School, represented by Kate, including the incorporation of The Algebra Project pedagogy and curriculum across four years.

Last, but not least, is Marcus Hung. Marcus is our tech person on the teacher resource team. If you go to our website, which you'll see later, Marcus actually put that together for us. Marcus is a national board-certified public school math teacher, serving students in the working class Excelsior neighborhood of San Francisco that is being gentrified by growing tech industry. He collaborates with his school's math department regularly on curriculum development, as well as class culture and complex instruction. He started with The Algebra Project in 2008 at Thurgood Marshall High School and has brought much of The Algebra Project's pedagogy and curriculum to his current school, June Jordan School for Equity. Marcus has served on both the teacher resource materials team and the teacher curriculum team, which he formed for The Algebra Project, in addition to having presented at both local and national conferences about the work that we're doing with The Algebra Project. Could you give our distinguished panel a round of applause?


This is our agenda. Again, I'm going to do just a brief history of The Algebra Project. When I say a brief history, I thought when Bob had us stand around the room, that we were about to do our oral history — histories of our stories, where you came into the project, then you'd say when you came in and what you did. I thought, "Uh-oh, we're going to be here a little while." That takes a long time, but that's the best situation — it's the best scenario to learn about The Algebra Project. If you're ever a part of that, that's a good thing. I'm going to do it in a different way, just slightly different today because I don't have much time. Then we're going to have the short presentations by the panel. I've told the panel that we have a time limit because we need your questions. I know you're at certain points, in terms of knowledge about The Algebra Project, and we want to give you opportunity to ask those questions, so we're going to limit that. Then, you'll have time for questions and answers here.

When we go to this framework and we look at — it's kind of talking about The Algebra Project conceptually. You look at the qualitative literacy requirement, the quantitative, as opposed to the reading requirement, I think that's a really good start for us to look at with The Algebra Project because, again, that's the basis. When we start to look at the concepts, when you think about The Algebra Project, for me, I think about it initially as middle school effort, a middle school initiative, because in the 1990s, that's when I came in. [0:35:12] From that point, we have the high school initiative, which brings on more players, more stakeholders in the area. Then what we have determined to be our minimal goal for all of our students who are — and I say students who fall in the lower quartile — we have a minimum goal that I'll just introduce you to. That's the way I'm going to structure it, and I'll turn it over to the panel.

The quantitative literacy is the fact that we need a standard for quantitative and scientific literacy appropriate to living in the United States of America in the 21st century. That's what's driving, the fact that we have to have our students ready to be informed, productive citizens for the 21st century. Then, we look at the middle school. For our middle school curriculum, it really was focused on more of a literacy standard that's informed by Quine. It's experienced-based, informed by Kolbe [0:36:30]. You start out with some shared experience. Some of you know about the trip that students go on. They take that trip, and then they mathematize [sic] that whole experience by looking at how they develop pictorial representations of their experience. Then they take that, in terms of how they talk about it, using ordinary language. They talk to each other like, "I went on this trip. This is what I saw."

They take that ordinary language, which we call people talk, and they move that to more of a structured language that's beginning to get more of mathematical language, academic language. That's the future talk. Then at the very end is when they, themselves, the students develop the symbolic representation, which is a flip of the script. Generally in math education, we start out with symbolic representation, but here, you're developing meaning. You're actually giving meaning to what students are about to do. Again, this is a history. You have people who've been in the project across years. Throughout the day, if you want to know more about any of this, please feel free to sit and talk to (inaudible 0:37:48).

Then we move to the high school curriculum, and we had a taste of that last night. Greg Budzban did some work with the Road Coloring with us last night. That is part of the high school curriculum. Our additional players were mathematicians — more mathematicians coming into the project, developing work that they've been working on, as Greg talked about the Road Coloring problem for a while, and actually making it accessible to our students.

The Road Coloring, trip line, as I talked about, in terms of the experience, and then also Racing against Time, which is also authored by Greg Budzban, and then geometry, which David talked about. He had us do an experience with experience base last night — David Henderson. Then height [0:38:50] chart, and there are several others. These are only a few of the modules that we have for our students.

What's the minimum goal? The minimum goal for The Algebra Project is to get students ready, so when they leave high school, they'll be ready to go to college and do math for college credit. Those of us who are in higher ed, we know what that means. It's very significant, because in most cases, students will come in and they're not prepared for college math for college credit. Remediation is really big. Again, what are the structures that these teachers are using in their particular schools that will help our students get to that goal? With that, I am going to ask our panelists to start. [0:40:00]

Speaker: Gina Greenidge - Hello, everyone. Again, my name is Gina Greenidge. I'm from Algebra Project in Miami. I was introduced to The Algebra Project in 2011. I worked with the university-community partnership between FIU — that's Florida International University — and Liberty City Schools. I met a dynamic woman, who was my supervisor at the time, Maria Lovett, who introduced me again to another dynamic woman named Dr. Joan Wynne. They took me on this whirlwind tour of Miami, giving me sights that I needed to know, places I needed to go.

One night, we met Bob Moses. He talked to us about The Algebra Project and how this was needed for our students at the bottom quartile. Coming from enrollment management, I understood, just like Nell said, the importance of students being able to go to college and sit in college-level math classes, knowing that in Florida, at the time, they were no longer allowing developmental math classes for credit, so students would have to pay out of pocket. It became our push. I'm not an educator. I call myself a community activist. That, in turn, made us go into the community, meet parents, talk about what these students were about to start embarking on, what they needed, what they weren't being told.

In my bio, Nell talked about working with the Urban League. Indirectly, I worked with the Urban League with another parent advocate. Her name is Regina Davis. With introduction of Regina Davis, we sat in parent homes. We went to football games. We went to churches. We really hit the streets to talk about what these students needed to be prepared to not only complete their high school diplomas, but then, in turn, go to college.

In my little notes, I have that, for me, it was never about the math. The math became an added bonus that our students were able to really explain these complex problems. They were able to talk to district people and administrators and really talk about what they're doing in classes when they are at the bottom. They're the students that weren't supposed to do anything. They weren't supposed to be able to explain this algebraic problem. It was about empowering those students, and empowering the parents to know that their students are doing well in school. We talked about our struggles. Our struggles, in Miami, have been with the district. Currently, right now, The Algebra Project is not at Miami Northwestern — not officially. But we have those type of teachers, who they still make it work. I had a PowerPoint, but we couldn't show the pictures.

I have two people here from Miami that are, again, community advocates. They're volunteers — I really want you all to stand up or put your hand up — who every Saturday, students from The Algebra Project meet. (Applause.) The (inaudible 0:43:27), they're not paid. They have no students at the high school, they have no kids in the community, but they're dedicated to The Algebra Project. Every Saturday, with some FIU undergraduate students and graduate students — we have some faculty members from FIU, The Algebra Project teachers, who are teaching algebra project curriculum in their class, but aren't — they meet with the students. The students aren't required to come. It's voluntary-based. They come because they know how important it is for them. They are now demanding their rights, and they know that this is the key to a better future for them. That's my short speech.


Speaker: Kate Belin - Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School was founded in 1994, when a larger school district in the Bronx, the Monroe School System, broke up and formed a number of smaller schools. I'm really excited to be here to have this conversation about structures that are in place to help support students because I've been at Fannie Lou for 11 years, and it's the only place that I've taught at. [0:45:02] In many ways, it's designed, very intentionally, around particular structures that are not necessarily the case in all schools. The chance to kind of get to step outside of it and think about those structures and to explain them is good every once in a while. I was very excited to think about some of these things and how to talk about them.

Our school is located in the South Bronx. Our students face issues of instability — instability in the home, in the community, and as a public school in New York City, instability amongst teachers. We have a high turnover rate. The structures that are put in place to help create stability when it might not be there in other ways, I think, are really important.

How does the school do that? It's a small school. Then within that school, we try to make it even smaller. Our school is broken up into two divisions, division one and division two. Division one is the ninth and tenth grade. I don't teach there. I teach in the eleventh and twelfth grade. Within division one, we try to break it up even smaller, so we create three houses within division one. In those houses, students are broken up into only two classes. Teachers who teach in the ninth and tenth grade will only have two sections, so they have only about 50 students that they teach. They are math/science teachers and humanities teachers. They spend their day with only 50 students and only two classes. Students are working closely with each other for their ninth and tenth grade years in the same class. Teachers get to know their students extremely well.

This leads to advisory. We have advisory, where in addition to being high school math teachers, they are also academic advisors. The idea behind advisory is that each individual student should be known well academically by at least one person in the building. As a teacher teaching math, I also have an advisor. That advisor is the one who collects all of the report cards for the students and meets with the families. When we have conferences, we don't just have families meet with the classroom teacher. They meet with the advisor and look at all of what the student is doing and try to get to know them well, really, individually.

In division two, where I teach, I loop with my students for two years. Currently, I'm an eleventh grade teacher, teaching a geometry curriculum. I will keep the same students for eleventh grade and twelfth grade. I have them for eleventh grade geometry, and then again in twelfth grade, for functions. The work that we do is supported in a number of ways. For example, having David Henderson and Kelly Gattis in the building to create and revise the curriculum, especially in the early days of piloting some of the units, we would come — they would observe classes. They would look at how the materials are evolving with the students, and then meet afterwards, look at how it's going, revise it, and continue this process.

This process of revision would then lead to changes in how the geometry materials look, both as it develops on The Algebra Project curriculum work, but also in how it would develop with the materials that we create in our own school. I just wanted to say a little bit about that, as well, because Fannie Lou Hamer, we have a variance from the state exams. Students do not take the New York State Regents exams. They do projects instead. These projects lead to — I talked a little bit about stability within the school. [0:50:01] I wanted to talk a little bit about the stability of the curriculum, the work that they do.

I don't know if teachers have heard their students say things like — I get this a lot, especially at the beginning, years ago — "I did your work, Kate." Whose work is it? Is it the student's work, or is it my work? Is it the teacher's work, or is it the student's work? We want to move it away from students thinking of it as work that they are doing for the teacher, and more towards believing that it is their work. How do we do that? We do that through — when Nell was explaining the five-step curricular process and how it begins with a shared experience, this idea of being able to bring people in — bring the students into the work that they are doing. Also, we do it at Fannie Lou through the projects. How can we create tasks and projects and things that are mathematically rich and meaningful that students will then begin to believe that it is their work that they are doing, not some test or something that is being given to them, but what they must do? Our variance has been able to really help support us with that.

In addition, we have block scheduling, so we meet with the students for between an hour and a half to an hour and 45 minutes, instead of 42-minute periods. I think that these structures of staying with the students for two years, for being their advisor for two years, for meeting with them for longer periods of time are things that need to be in place.

I just want to end with an example from a teacher who was finishing his first year. It was difficult, as it often is. As our former principal, Nancy Mann used to say, "If your first year didn't suck, you didn't start here." He was finishing his first year, and he was in a particularly difficult situation because the turnover rate in the room that he had taken over was high. There had been many teachers in that room for the past years. He was thinking about the advisory and how he was supposed to build long relationships with students and thinking about these structures that are in place and saying, "How can we do this?"

He was not understanding it, and it's our job to help new teachers understand this. How can we be doing this with such high turnover? You can't run a structure that requires stability if it's constantly in flux. That's actually exactly why it's in place. In spite of people leaving, what can you put in place so that if the change and change and change happens, you actually have the structure there through the curriculum, through the scheduling, through the setup of students staying together? We found ourselves, at the end of the year, trying to explain this and thinking you have to be able to talk about these things. Unfortunately, he left the next year, but we're still here.


Speaker: Marcus Hung - Good morning, everyone. I want to kind of build off what I heard Gina and Kate say. First, I want to kind of address, maybe, the larger question for those of you who are new to The Algebra Project, which is what is The Algebra Project? As an Algebra Project teacher, whatever that means, I get that question a lot. I think it's very important that when you think about The Algebra Project, you're not thinking about a textbook, or you're not thinking about the curricula that we have, which is really important, but to me, my very first training, I was asking everybody, "What is The Algebra Project?" [0:55:12]

I even asked Bob that when I met him. Bob's reply to me was what I kind of reply to other people, as well, which is, "What do you think it is?" Based off of what you know about it, really that's what The Algebra Project is. It's this deep belief and this deep call, as Petra used earlier, this calling that we have a value of people; we have a value of children. That's the work that leads us into all the different things that we do. As teachers, something Gina said, that inside of me makes me a little intimidated, this idea of an organizer, and this idea of advocating, maybe more in a political manner or in an upfront way. I don't identify as that. I identify as a teacher.

Yet, in The Algebra Project, those two things are hand in hand. If you look at Bob's story and his life work, really, that's what we're trying to encompass and live out in the classroom. I think that's something that — what I heard Kate say, which is really important, is that in the same way that we ask students to take on this work for themselves, we're also asking teachers and schools and education supporters and advocates, even university level — we're asking everybody to take this on for themselves. Too often in the classroom, it's very obvious. When students come in and they're just asking, "Is this right? Did I do this problem correctly?"

That's the opposite of what we're striving for here. We're not looking for the right answer. We're looking for the right process, and we're looking for the strength and that process of finding the answers for ourselves. I think as a teacher, we're too often falling short of even that goal. Many times, teachers around the country are told what to do, or they're not even asking the question of what can I do? It's more of what am I supposed to do? I hear Gina's story of not being able to do something in your school, which is really ridiculous, if you think about it, because as practitioners on the ground floor, if you're not able to affect your own practice, what are you really doing? I don't like to think of myself as somebody who's just following orders or doing something mindlessly, but really doing things thoughtfully. I think that's what The Algebra Project offers is a vehicle to thoughtfully engage young people in meaningful work.

I was just going to say a couple things about the school that I work at. Actually, let me say some things about the school that I previously worked at, which is where I initially came into The Algebra Project. I really feel like it's a tale of two completely different places. When I first came on in 2008, I was very gung ho, wanting to figure things out for my students, for my class, and not really seeing the larger community that my school was. I had a lot of students that came to me in the hallways and said, "Mr. Hung, I want to be in your class. Your class is good." I almost felt some — I don't know, I felt proud that they would see me as better than the other teachers — an unspoken competition. Just somehow it was gratifying to me. Over the years there at Thurgood Marshall, it became my thing. It kind of became my and another teacher's purpose and something that we were working with the students on.

I was asked to find another place because The Algebra Project was no longer supported by the administration that came in. As I was looking for another school, I was really looking for the next step, which is a community, which is a place to really collaborate and do this work that's bigger than me. [1:00:00] I found June Jordan's School for Equity in San Francisco, which is modeled similarly after Kate's school in New York, which has the belief that what we do individually with our students is really in the context of a community. There's a lot of different structures, very similar to some of the structures Kate already mentioned., but I wanted to just say that when we think about providing opportunities or structuring our system so that the students win, we have to keep in mind what's best for the sustainability of our teachers, as well.

I think something that we've been able to work along and try to figure out over the years that I've been at June Jordan is true teacher collaboration. True teacher collaboration requires a lot of different factors and pieces, support from the administration level at your school, to even the district level, to some degree, and having a lot of different structures within the context of your school to be able to collaborate and to meet. I do believe that this work is meaningful, and it's also really time-intensive. As a teacher, that's one of the things that we struggle with across the board. There's just not enough time to really engage in thoughtful, meaningful discussion and collaboration for our students. I wanted to bring that up as definitely a challenge, but also offer that as we think about how teachers can take on this work, I think what The Algebra Project has done for me, as well as other professional development-type opportunities, is the space to speak on a panel, to share who we are and to talk about what we bring. I think in this room, we all have different roles with a common vision. I think that's what unifies us and allows us to step up, as we all have different pieces of this puzzle that we're trying to figure out together.

I don't know if there's anything else that I wanted to say. I just wanted to make sure that it was communicated that, as teachers, because the bottom quartile, that's kind of a nice, concise way of talking about people, in a way, I feel like we have the privilege and the honor of putting names and histories and relationships to this idea of a bottom quartile. It's really important for us to come to the table and share broadly, but also specifically, and making sure that this isn't just an abstract idea because this is really important. That song that we were all listening to earlier, it's kind of funny because the legislation, not that long ago, was talking about No Child Left Behind.

Really, what we're trying to do now — and The Algebra Project is one vehicle in which we're trying to do this — is making sure that everybody is accounted for in a very holistic way that's not just talking about all tests are accounted for or all standardized measures are for, but really knowing students and being able to create communities in the classroom. That's not an easy thing. I don't think any of us would say that we've got it figured out, but I think the act of trying and the mindset that we are creating something as we go along, and not just trying to consume something that's been figured out because nothing's been figured out.

I want to reiterate that because within The Algebra Project, we need allies. We need people that are going to continue to help push this work along. This is work. It's part of the struggle. We're not at all trying to say that we've figured something out, and we're presenting it in that sense. This is a collaboration and, really, a co-creation, as we move along. Thank you. (Applause.)

Female: I think that the teacher's point of view, it's essential that it is central to the discussions that are going to take place for the rest of the day. [1:05:09] I do want to highlight a few things that the teachers said, because I want to make sure they don't get lost as you start focusing on policy and funding. I'm not sure if you would call it an existing structure for opportunity, but what I don't want to get lost in the conversation is The Algebra Project curriculum itself, and the experience that young people have of doing real, legitimate, genuine math, not a school version of math, not something else. It's the real deal. It's essential to keep that in mind, that that structure's already there.

Now, I'm thinking about what structures do I need to keep that in the room? With Algebra Project, one group of teachers I work with call it the brilliance of Bob. What it does, the modules, the pedagogy, the five-step deal, is it brings students into an overall context of the question, "What do you think? What do you think about what she thinks? Are you convinced? Why are you convinced? Explain, in a clear way" — we'll work on that — "what has convinced you in this mathematically." Very rarely does that happen in math classes. I heard, Marcus, you, especially, talking about making that happen. I don't want that to get lost. That's what I'm trying to — those are the opportunities that I'm trying to structure.

Secondly — now, I have forgotten. Now I see the following as a structure for that structure, which is — and this was also referred to — time. I want to be careful in how I explain this. We didn't have any time left this morning, but Bob had the circle. Bob had the whole song because Bob knew that was important for the day. It was essential pedagogical time together to get something good at the end, something valuable at the end, but there really wasn't time for that, right? In schools, those kinds of time decisions happen all the time, and the circle gETS® thrown out. I'm calling it "time." We need more specificity. If I'm going to take a group of young people and get them talking like those Urban League folks were last night — thank you for being a great table for the math problems — that takes time. I can't just jump to, "He's got the right answer; come on up and show it." Can't. It all gets thrown out the window if you want a citizenry that's saying, "Here's what I think. Here's what I think about what she thinks. Here's why I think it, and now I'm going to give reasoning to convince you." You can't not have the whole song with the circle. I think that's plenty, but please try to keep what the teachers have said in mind. Bye. (Applause.)

Nell Cobb: Now we're going to open it up for questions, if you have a question of any of the panelists.

Female: I have lots of questions, but what was going through my head as I was hearing the teachers — and maybe it might be a question for Kate and maybe others can respond — is how do we form teachers to be like you all? That's what I want to know. How do we develop the pipeline to really form teachers? In Arizona, we have a teacher shortage. People are just walking out of the schools because they don't get paid enough, because they don't get respect, because they don't have the resources. We have a crappy governor and a crappy legislature. Some of us are thinking how do we develop pipelines for teachers, and how do we make teachers like you or train teachers? I call it formation. [1:10:00]

Kate Belin: I can say one thing that was particularly influential was that I came out of mathematics as an undergraduate. The experience of being a mathematician, not in terms of thinking about how I would teach it, but actually just the doing of the mathematics, I think, was very influential in becoming a teacher. In addition, when I was in graduate school and preparing for — I didn't know I was preparing for it, at all. I didn't have a job yet, but the future held that I would be teaching Algebra Project geometry materials that David created with things like symmetries of straight lines on various surfaces, like the sphere and hyperbolic surfaces.

Having taken his course with Kelly as a graduate student hugely influenced my approach to using it with the students. Just taking the use of straight on a sphere, that's been something that's been hard for teachers who have not come out of that to think about how do I fit that into the curriculum, and how does it apply, and how do I get the stuff, and how do I get the students thinking about it? Having experienced it myself, as a learner, I think was just hugely beneficial. I'm still trying to think about ways to help teachers with that type of question realize that it actually makes their lives better and easier, not harder.

Marcus Hung: I'll say one thing about that. I think there's a parallel between how do you develop students to think for themselves and take initiative, own their own work, parallel to how do teachers take this up? In my mind, I see the trust for students to be able to do it. That's probably the biggest hurdle as to why, as a teacher, we feel the need to control things and manage their learning. Whereas for a teacher, I know — I came into The Algebra Project two years into my teaching career. Having Bob trust me enough to lead a team of teachers was huge. I think that opportunity for leadership, the opportunity to make a change or an impact in your own profession, that's something that is lacking for a lot of teachers.

The other thing that I think — it's interesting that you asked that question, because I do believe that's part of the impetus for us meeting — is to talk about how do we think more innovatively about bringing more talented and compassionate people into the classroom? I think we need to do that. I think we need to just bring people into the classrooms. I know our school does a really good job of just opening our doors and inviting — be it college students or graduate students or people from the community who are just interested in how do we teach, and how do we educated students not just in the academics? You can kind of get that, I guess, in some way, from a text or some college class or something, but I think, really, it's the art and the ability to relate to young people, that you need to be in the classroom, or you need to be amongst them, whether it's after school or whatever, but just having that experience and exposure and knowing what it is that you're getting into. I think that's part of it.

Male: Thank you very much for your presentations. At ETS®, we've been — I can remember four years ago, Caroline, we were all sitting in the room here with The Algebra Project in our earlier days of collaborating. We were asked the same questions that you were asked about what is The Algebra Project, Marcus. We wound up working with The Algebra Project with some support from the National Science Foundation to produce a logic model and a theory of action about The Algebra Project. I invite you to get a copy of that. [1:15:02] We should probably make it available to everybody to sort of give you a sense of — that was actually needed in order to submit proposals to places like the National Science Foundation, where there's a peer review process and so on.

The other thing that we confront a lot is people are looking for evidence all the time, most often quantitative, easy evidence to read and to compare with other things. Even the qualitative evidence, could you give us some examples of what you — the science that you use to know that you're winning with your students in your schools, and also to talk a little bit about how you're viewed and your students are viewed, after you finish with them, by your colleagues in the public? What kind of science do you know that helps you know that you're making progress?

Gina Greenidge: In Miami, we're in the Liberty City community. I'm not sure outside of Florida, if you're familiar, but we're very much a low poverty area. The high school we're working at, 98% of the students are on free or reduced lunch. We have crime epidemic going on in our community; drugs and gangs and violence is rampant. This year alone, we've lost five students at the high school, and it's December. We've lost two students in The Algebra Project in the past four years that I've been there.

Qualitatively, when students are showing up, we know we're doing our work. Like I said, Saturdays we have 12–13 students there — close? Fifteen, 16, 20. He keeps giving me the thumbs up. The majority of those are young men of color — young men of color who are playing sports. They may have played football the night before, but they make it their business to come to Saturday school the next day. For the past three years, we've run a very successful summer institute. This past year, we had close to 70 students at The Algebra Project summer institute. They come. Again, it's not required. We push them to come, but they come. They show up at eight thirty in the morning, and they're there until two. Again, for three years we ran a math and civics institute in the elementary/middle school students. Every summer we have close to 50 students who make it their business to be a part of what we're doing, all in the name of math. When you're asking me if we know — again, I'm not an educator, but as someone who is pushing good programming, good projects for the community, I know they're interested. They're coming. I've got parents calling me.

When The Algebra Project was pulled out of the incoming freshman class this year, I had kids calling me. I had parents calling me and saying, "No, Miss Sarah is supposed to be my kid's teacher, and that's not what's on their schedule." Again, with the organizing and demanding that we are there, that these students are participating in this project, has pushed it to go into the middle school, like you said, foundationally. We have a middle school math teacher who is going to be hopefully continuing the program in the middle schools in Liberty City, but again, showing up, being a part and spreading the word, we know that what we're doing is effective.

Kate Belin: I have a similar answer, in terms of when people are showing up, but more specifically for my math class. My students are very transparent about what is working and what is not working. Even though I've been there for 11 years, when a topic isn't going well, I really, really know. They don't just play along just because it's me, and it's the spring, and I've been with them all year. When tasks are meaningful, engaging, accessible, yet provide opportunities for real thinking, then the room is working. [1:20:11] When they're not, it's not. I'm sorry that's not data like a number, but —

Male: No, that's terrific. Can you give us an example of that (inaudible 1:20:22)?

Kate Belin: Working or not working?

Male: Working.

Kate Belin: Sure. With project-based assessment, it works really well when you're able to introduce the project on the first day, and that can be really hard. Project-based assessment gone wrong sometimes starts with let me teach all of the skills, and then we can do the project. But then you're in the exact same problem as if you had not been doing project-based assessment, because you're in the problem of let me teach the skills, so where's the project in the learning? It goes well when you can introduce the final task on the first day, in some senses. For example, if we want to teach trigonometry and get it sine and cosine functions, it doesn't work when you say, "Let's learn sine and cosine functions, and then apply it to this Ferris wheel," because you're never going to get through let's learn it for the sake of learning the sine and cosine function.
What is an example of something that I think has worked really well is when the Ferris wheel is actually in the room on the first day. That's what you walk in to, is a Ferris wheel, an actual Ferris wheel. You just are experiencing the Ferris wheel and asking yourself questions. The students are saying, "What is anything that you want to know about this Ferris wheel?" You just keep track of them. Then, if you want to know the answer to these, it leads to how would you figure it out? Along the way, students then saying, "What would be a way that I could figure out that height off the ground?" They have just asked you, now, how can the sine function help me, as opposed to me saying let me tell you the sine function, and then we'll apply it.

Male: Thank you, everyone. Round of applause for everyone. (Applause.)

Nell Cobb: I think there was one more question. It's one more question in the back. Maisha?

Maisha Moses: I just wanted to piggyback on Kate's comment, because she actually spoke on exactly what I was thinking about. I think that we know a lot about what students like and what they don't like and what works for them, in the sense that you were talking about, in terms of what's meaningful, what are meaningful learning experiences, but we're pretty much deaf to that information. We don't have a system that allows us to capture that information and to be sensitive, in some way exquisitely sensitive, and to be able to respond to that information about what works for students and what doesn't work for students.

I work with the Young People's Project, and I think a lot about young people's perspectives. Often, when I'm in these rooms, I think about how there are no children in the rooms. These are not spaces that children would want to be in, but these are the spaces where the decisions are getting made about what children will experience. We're really deaf, and have been deaf. The business of schooling, for over 100 years, has been deaf to the voices of children. It's not that they're not speaking; they say it every day about what works, but we just don't listen.

Male: Are you going to bring us home? [1:25:00]

Male: First of all, thank you for that great presentation. This is a question for ETS®, because I looked at the will that was up in the beginning and it talked about the quantitative literacy needs, and then on to middle school, high school. I see your goal is to actually have young people ready to go to college, to do college math for college credit. That's wonderful. We've got to have that. The work that you're doing with the solutions that you're designing are helping a number of young people, but the majority of our kids, as known by all of us from outcomes, are still failing. I think my question to you is why wouldn't we scale The Algebra Project all the way back, so that we could begin at the origin of the problem, which are young children?

Middle school is too late. If we don't address issues with young people — college-bound capacity begins at conception. If we're not working early with kids to build the foundations that they need, so that by the time they get to these wonderful teachers, they can really move them through their continuum and have them ready — the question is why wouldn't we scale back The Algebra Project, so that we can begin earlier with kids to build those foundations and not wait until it's too late?

My greatest piece from ETS® was a piece that you did a few years ago called America's Smallest School, The Family. I loved that piece. I said, "Wow, they're on to something now." I'm waiting to continue to read where we're going with that because it is, in fact, the family that's the missing piece in all of our educational needs. The family is a part of our team. It's not just the teachers in the school, but it's the teachers, the administrators, and the family. You can't bring part of the solution to part of the team. You've got to train the whole team, so that when you call the play and the ball is snapped, the family is running the same play that the teachers are running in the classroom. I would look for ETS® to begin to do work around how do we help the families of these ten million kids that were mentioned this morning, who are underserved and missing out on everything, which is where our real issue is.

Our results are from kids who are already doing well. We're taking these great solutions into schools where kids are doing pretty good, but nobody's going down into the hood, where they're sitting on the corner under the tree with the forties and dealing with those children with these kinds of solutions. That's why we need to take these solutions, and we need to scale them all the way back to the early years, because that's when the formative years are. If we miss them from zero to three, the neural network is already off and running another way, and it's not good. We're trying to catch folks up.

My question is why wouldn't we scale this great solution all the way back, teach kids the additive inverse and the multiplicative inverse from the number line? You want to teach them how to do math, make sure that they understand the math definitions and talk math to them. Take a number line — if you know your left hand from your right hand and you can count, we can teach you algebra. We can teach you math from a number line.

Female: Thank you. I think this is a really good way to transition. Let me just say that we have a number of initiatives that actually have The Algebra Project school-wide, from kindergarten through high school. Mansfield, Ohio is one place that they've done it. That is something that, yes, in terms of The Algebra Project going into a school district, in a lot of cases — one example is Mansfield, Ohio, where you start with the kindergarten, in some cases preschool, around these shared experiences. Point well taken.

Male: I know our schedule is going on, and I don't want to usurp your responsibility or authority here. I just want to respond by agreeing with you about early childhood and just to let you know that you've gotten ETS®'s attention on early childhood. The report that you mentioned was one of the things that caused us to move into an early childhood research initiative here. We're getting started. [01:30:00] We view that as part of what we need to do to sustain ourselves as an organization in the future. Walt and I and several of our colleagues were on a sustainability taskforce. That was one of the recommendations.

We're collaborating with The Algebra Project and the Young People's Project, but we're also working with Marian Wright Edelman at the Children's Defense Fund. She has Freedom Schools. We're supporting Freedom Schools. They have a literacy agenda. We're also working with Sesame. We have the Sesame Workshop coming to visit us in February, so that we can launch a joint effort with Sesame, beginning in the Bronx, on a specific project, but then thinking about how we might blend all the work that we're doing in early literacy and early learning into that initiative. I think that's just a short answer, but I wanted to make sure that you know that we agree with you.