May 1, 2008
Vol. 27 No. 15

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    CEMSE works to reverse negative trends in science, math education

    By Lisa LaVallee

    A recent study shows that American students are no longer in the world’s top 10 in science by the time they reach eighth grade, and by age 15, they rank 28th globally in mathematics.

    Though not widely known, the Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education at the University is working to reverse these trends through programs, research and partnerships designed to improve math and science instruction in Chicago-area schools and beyond.

    An independent center that resides within the Physical Sciences Division, CEMSE works to improve math and science education through research and evaluation, direct services with schools and school districts, and tool development.

    CEMSE was established in 2002 with funding from royalties generated by Everyday Mathematics, a comprehensive pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade mathematics curriculum developed by the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project and published by Wright Group/McGraw-Hill.

    About three million children in 185,000 classrooms use Everyday Mathematics, for which CEMSE developed its third edition. While royalty income provides a foundation for CEMSE’s funding, said Jeanne Century, Director of Research and Evaluation & Director of Science Education for CEMSE, state and federal grants and contracts also provide support.

    In these efforts, CEMSE seeks to provide schools and researchers with evidence-based information that can help answer key questions and concerns of math and science educators. Research projects range from the study of the fidelity of implementation of K-8 science and math instructional materials, which is funded by a three-year, $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation, to another NSF-funded project that is synthesizing research on the sustainability of education reform.

    CEMSE also is in the second of a multi-year project, which aims to improve mathematics achievement in 10 Chicago public elementary schools that are being restructured as mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act. That legislation identified the schools as failing to make adequate yearly progress over five consecutive years. The project, budgeted at $1 million annually, is expected to continue for several more years.

    CEMSE implementation specialists visit schools to help school leaders implement the Everyday Mathematics curriculum, and CEMSE researchers collect data on the success of the implementation. The researchers observe classroom instruction, interview teachers and principals, and administer questionnaires about the curriculum. That data is then shared quarterly with school leaders, with the expectation of informing them of how to support Everyday Mathematics going forward.

    Recently, the Illinois Board of Higher Education awarded the University an annually renewable grant, totaling approximately $1 million over three years, to support work in three Professional Development Schools: two University charter schools (North Kenwood/Oakland and Donoghue) and the National Teachers Academy, a neighborhood school operated by the Chicago Public Schools.

    The grant will enable CEMSE and the Center for Urban School Improvement to work with these schools to strengthen mathematics and science instruction, then to disseminate its effects to a network of six CPS partnership schools and the entire CPS system.

    Moreover, CEMSE provides science and mathematics education support for a number of University-based organizations, including the Center for Urban School Improvement, Yerkes Astrophysics Academy for Young Scientists and the Urban Teacher Education Preparation Program.

    For faculty members interested in doing outreach in the public schools, CEMSE also can be a resource. “What we’re interested in doing with the faculty,” said Century, “is to collaborate with them on projects that will have a real impact on teachers, meet their needs and enrich the school permanently, if done smartly.”

    The center participates in a number of outreach activities, such as last year’s Science in the City initiative sponsored by the City of Chicago, which drew thousands of Chicagoans to family friendly science events.

    “We’re pretty entrepreneurial here,” said Century. “These types of events help us get to know people across the city. They also give us the chance to reach out and educate people about the importance of math and science education.”