Rachel Tapp once described herself as “math phobic,” but now she’s a superstar math teacher. She has coached other math teachers in her district—Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS)—on shifting their instruction to align with the Common Core State Standards, and she models effective math teaching for colleagues who visit her classroom at the Oyler School in Cincinnati.
But how did Tapp transform into one of the district’s top middle school math teachers? She credits it to the professional development she received at the Mayerson Academy, a nationally-renowned public-private partnership that provides more than 600 learning opportunities for more than 2,000 CPS educators every year. In describing her experience at Mayerson, Tapp says, “They taught me how to be a good math coach.”
Tapp spent three years focusing on math pedagogy and content in the Mayerson Academy/Xavier University Mathematics (MAXUM) Program. CPS co-developed the program with Xavier after the district identified the lack of mathematics understanding among its teachers as a barrier to student learning. “Our strategy is to build skilled math coaches,” says Superintendent Mary Ronan.
And so Tapp and about 30 other educators joined the MAXUM Program, taking courses like “Math as a Second Language” and learning techniques such as using open-ended, problem-solving questions to support students’ math learning. Pre- and post-test results show that MAXUM Program participants made significant gains in their content and pedagogical understanding of several math subjects. And for Tapp, the results were astounding. “Her mathematics ability is far beyond anybody I’ve seen,” says Tapp’s principal at Oyler. “She gets students to understand, not just regurgitate.”
Many MAXUM participants have shared their increased knowledge and skills with educators across the district by serving as math coaches. The coaches have helped CPS teachers incorporate the instructional shifts associated with the Common Core into their curriculum and instruction, and they’ve built teachers’ confidence along the way. “The new standards were not embraced at first. It was difficult to get our more experienced teachers on board. Now they’re asking, ‘Where to next?’” reports Cynthia Sanders, a curriculum manager in CPS. “Coaches showed teachers why the shifts were good.”
The MAXUM Program also has prepared math coaches to use data to inform their coaching process. This skill aligns with the culture of data-driven improvement that CPS has built: Each school has a “data room” where teachers, principals, and coaches meet to analyze student data and identify ways to support students’ growth.
And because principals also play a key role in supporting educators’ professional development, Mayerson offers several trainings for principals and evaluators. For example, principals can engage in trainings on being an effective evaluator and giving feedback to help teachers improve their practice. These principal learning opportunities not only boost school leaders’ abilities, but also ultimately enhance their teachers’ development.
As CPS educators grow in their practice, students are achieving more: The high school graduation rate increased by more than 13 percent between 2010 and 2013, and CPS is now the highest-performing urban school district in Ohio. By partnering with Mayerson Academy to make it a hub for comprehensive, tailored professional learning activities, CPS is helping educators like Rachel Tapp transform their practice and maximize their students’ learning.
Read more about Cincinnati’s success in our Districts Rising case study; you can also read the full series of 10 case studies, including Boston, New Haven and Indianapolis. This article is cross-posted on the Gates Foundation’s Impatient Optimists blog.