April 26, 2007
Vol. 26 No. 15

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    Math project proves its worth as a successful story of BP’s philanthropy

    By William Harms
    News Office

    The University of Chicago School Mathematics Project, the nation’s largest university-based mathematics curriculum program, is being cited as an example of success that can result from an effective philanthropic initiative.

    The Council on Foundations will honor the BP Foundation, successor to the Amoco Foundation, with a Critical Impact Award for its support of UCSMP. Through an ambitious effort to improve the instruction of mathematics among American school children, UCSMP has proved its effectiveness in improving the performance of students across the country, in both urban and suburban schools.

    The BP Foundation has provided a total of $8.4 million, and the National Science Foundation and a number of other foundations have provided additional funding for UCSMP since its founding in 1983.

    The Critical Impact Awards were established to recognize foundations that have made a difference in their grant making, “while sharing with the public examples of how philanthropy seeks to enhance the common good,” the Council on Foundations noted in its award citation.

    The award will be officially given on Monday, April 30 at the Council on Foundations annual meeting in Seattle. The BP Foundation is one of five foundations across the country to receive the recognition.

    Patricia Wright, president of the BP Foundation, said that education has been the cornerstone of BP Foundation support for many years. “The University of Chicago School Mathematics Project is one of the most significant education investments BP Foundation has made in its 55-year history,” said Wright.

    “BP is pleased to receive the Council on Foundations inaugural Critical Impact Award. We are proud of our association with University of Chicago and the UCSMP team. We salute the University and the UCSMP team for their excellence in design, implementation and commitment to continuous improvement,” she added.

    Since its inception, UCSMP has grown dramatically. It has developed curricula, teacher training materials and textbooks that are used by 3.5 to 4 million students in all 50 states and in most urban areas.

    The Everyday Mathematics portion of the curriculum, which serves kindergarten through sixth grade, is the most popular of all curricula used in elementary schools throughout the United States. The secondary school portion of the curriculum also is used extensively. Schools usually begin offering it in middle school with a Transition Mathematics course that links arithmetic with algebra and geometry.

    The UCSMP textbook series is now in its third edition and is being published by the Wright Group, a division of McGraw-Hill. The third edition will be published with new pre-kindergarten materials and a new middle school course, Pre-Transition Mathematics.

    Based on his research on the Soviet educational system, Izaak Wirszup, Professor Emeritus in Mathematics and the College, had foretold a crisis in American mathematics and science education. After shared his concerns about mathematics instruction with the late Keith McHenry, former vice president for research at Amoco, as well as with representatives of the Amoco Foundation and professors in Education and Mathematics at the University, they established the project.

    Wirszup collaborated with his colleagues Max Bell, Professor Emeritus in Education; Charles Bidwell, the William Claude Reavis Professor Emeritus in Sociology and the College; Felix Browder, the Max Mason Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Mathematics; Larry Hedges, former professor in Education; Paul Sally, Professor in Mathematics and the College; Susan Stodolsky, Professor Emerita in Comparative Human Development and the College; and Zalman Usiskin, Professor in Education and Director of UCSMP.

    Among its first activities, UCSMP translated 40 textbooks from other countries. These materials supported the view that improved curriculum and teacher education could raise student performance in the United States.

    Since 1983, UCSMP has sponsored five international conferences, written two editions of complete mathematics curricula for kindergarten to 12th-grade students, provided extensive teacher-training activities for teachers in the Chicago area and around the nation, and has undertaken and published state-of-the-art evaluations of its materials and activities.

    Impressive for any project, after 25 years UCSMP is still going strong. The third editions of its materials for pre-kindergarten to eighth-grade students are appearing this spring for use in the fall.

    “There have been big changes in mathematics education in the United States in the past 25 years, and UCSMP has been part of those changes,” said Usiskin.

    An example of those big changes, he said, is the goal to provide a curriculum that allows for an earlier introduction of algebra for average students.

    Usiskin pointed out that while about 13 percent of eighth-graders were learning algebra in 1981 and 1982, now 30 percent are entering high school with credit from an algebra course.

    “UCSMP is a sustainable success story that has fundamentally impacted the way mathematics is taught, and BP is proud to have provided the lead funding,” Wright said.