NSF Grant to Elevate Math and CS Instruction

As employment trends shift to meet the changes brought about by technological evolution, computer science has become a basic skill necessary for participation in the modern workforce. However, California students in high poverty, high minority and urban public schools often don’t have access to quality math and computer science education and are therefore sometimes prevented from participating more broadly in STEM education and careers.

While there are many issues that contribute to this unequal access, one major factor is a shortage of highly effective mathematics and computer science teachers in secondary schools in high-need school districts.

In an effort to address this aspect of the problem, mathematics professor Darryl Yong, computer science professors Colleen Lewis and Zach Dodds and Karen Gallagher (USC) are launching their project, “Math for America Los Angeles: Elevating Mathematics and Computer Science Instruction through Teacher Leadership,” which has been awarded National Science Foundation (NSF) funding.

Working with Math for America Los Angeles, a non-profit organization founded in 2007 by USC, Claremont Graduate University and Harvey Mudd College, with seed funding from the original Math for America organization in New York, the team has developed a comprehensive plan to support teachers through various initiatives as well as conduct ongoing research that will further illuminate the issues and the progress made.

“The teachers who are in Math for America Los Angeles are doing amazing work every single day, and we get to participate in their work indirectly by supporting them,” says Yong. “The design of Math for America Los Angeles’s programs synthesizes the best available research on how to retain the talented teachers, help them develop leadership and improve student outcomes. It also adheres to the best practices suggested by research on teacher leadership and professional development. It helps teachers become leaders by giving them the resources and support they need to carry out durable and meaningful improvements at their schools.”

The project has three objectives: Improve access to high-quality mathematics and computer science instruction in secondary schools; cultivate teacher leaders through intensive professional development; and conduct research on the relationship between teachers’ participation in communities of practice and their development as teacher leaders.

A collaborative effort between USC, Harvey Mudd College, six school districts in the greater Los Angeles area and Math for America Los Angeles, the project will be implemented over six years and include summer institutes at Harvey Mudd.

The total amount of the NSF award is $2,999,995, which includes a $426,629 subaward to HMC. The project will fund 34 master teaching fellows who will create an improvement plan for their respective schools’ mathematics and/or computer science instructional needs. The fellows will also participate in monthly professional development meetings, summer computer science training and academic team teaching.

NSF grants are the largest share of external support for faculty research at HMC.