These Numbers Add Up: Partnerships for Quality Math Instruction

“I’m worried about math.” While this was once a frequent statement from my fifth-grade self to my mom at the kitchen/homework table, decades later my concern is on behalf of students nationwide slowly recovering from lost instruction. With the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) currently underway for the first time since 2019, many of us are waiting with bated breath, figuring that national trends are likely to follow state reports of significant declines in students doing math on grade level through the pandemic.

This problem is not new, just exacerbated – and fortunately, plenty of smart people have been focused for years on ways to identify missed concepts, engage students in making math applicable to their world, and building math confidence across gender. The most promising of these efforts involve something I’ve written about frequently as critical to curriculum selection and implementation: collaboration (between state leaders and local educators, and among parents, teachers, and districts). When it comes to quality math materials, I’m encouraged by partnerships where states are leveraging funds for expert support at the local level.

Nebraska is using COVID relief funding to advance state goals around quality instructional materials at no extra cost for schools most in need of support. In alignment with the state’s Renewal and Acceleration Framework, the NDE is investing in aligned professional development for Comprehensive Support & Improvement schools through their Communities of Practice partnership with TNTP. These learning cohorts are focusing on the delivery of quality, student-centered instruction and engaging with tools and resources to determine how well students are progressing. Not only do teachers learn from state and TNTP experts, but they also learn from each other and build local professional networks. And the NDE and TNTP have extended professional learning around acceleration grounded in strong classroom content and instruction to all teachers statewide for 2022-23.

The NDE has also offered schools access to Zearn Math this year, and will continue the effort through summer 2022 and the following school year. Over 9,000 educators are using Zearn to reach 110,000 Nebraska students so far – and the state is offering aligned professional learning opportunities to support implementation of these EdReports-certified quality materials. Nebraska educators can use Zearn’s K-5 core curriculum, K-8 core complement, a K-8 tutoring program, and a K-8 summer learning program – all free of charge thanks to the smart use of COVID relief funding. I previously wrote about the promising impact of Delaware’s investment in Zearn along these same lines.

Speaking of the First State, Barbara Davidson’s Knowledge Matters school tour recently highlighted three districts there supporting the implementation of high-quality math materials. The tour highlights many instances of enhanced math instruction, but this Tweet sums it up: “HQIM allow teachers to focus energy on enhancing the lesson, not writing it!” These examples demonstrate how partnerships between classrooms, state coalitions, and providers – in this case, the Delaware Math Coalition and Illustrative Math (also EdReports-certified) – are enabling the kind of impactful math teaching and learning students need now.

Stories like these are helping me channel my math anxiety into something much more productive: optimism that educators + curriculum experts = collaboration that helps kids. Although the new NAEP data will undoubtedly shine a light on COVID deficits, states will not be in the dark about what to do. We have lots of examples of educators and policymakers leading the way.

Jocelyn Pickford is an education policy and communications specialist focusing on understanding and promoting practitioner-informed public policy across the private, public and non-profit sectors as a Senior Affiliate with HCM Strategists. She began her career in education as a high school English teacher in a regular and special education inclusion classroom and is now a public school parent and recent member of her local district school board. Previously, Jocelyn led the design, launch and implementation of the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship at the U.S. Department of Education to integrate teachers into the national education policy dialogue. Jocelyn’s passion for her work was seeded during her own public school education and took root during her classroom teaching experience in Fairfax County, Virginia, where she led action research and presented instructional materials to a variety of audiences. Jocelyn earned her bachelor’s degree from Trinity College (CT), working as a professional writer and editor prior to becoming a teacher, and obtained her master’s in secondary education from the George Washington University. Jocelyn lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and two children.