Title page for ETD etd-01272011-151106

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Sims, John, L. Jr.
Author's Email Address jsims@ebrschools.org
URN etd-01272011-151106
Title Improving Math Instruction in Schools That Serve the Poor
Degree Master of Natural Sciences (M.N.S.)
Department Mathematics
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Neubrander, Frank Committee Chair
Madden, James Committee Member
Sundar, Padmanaban Committee Member
  • math instruction
  • high need
  • high performance
Date of Defense 2010-12-17
Availability unrestricted
Public alarm concerning how well U.S. schools are performing in mathematics compared to other developed nations is increasing. Reports of inadequate teaching, poor curriculum design, and low performance on standardized test have been fueled by the media. These issues in American mathematics classrooms are far compounded in schools that serve the poorest in America. When comparing mathematical proficiency rates of U.S. schools with other countries, schools with less than 25% free and reduced lunch score competitively with counterparts in other countries. In contrast, schools with rates of free and reduced lunch higher than 50% score dismally in comparison. Conditions such as poorly trained teachers, lack of support, insufficient instructional programs, focus on low level skills, low expectations, overwhelming workloads, poor work conditions all contribute to the inferior level of instruction received by students in these schools.

There are, however, schools that serve students of poverty that are beating the odds and performing on par and in some cases better than schools that serve more affluent students. To determine what can be reproduced elsewhere, this thesis take a look what is taking place in these schools: a demanding curriculum, implementation of problem solving, deep understanding and communication of mathematics, continual reworking of curriculum, using varied instructional practices, building relationships, and teacher leadership. For instructional practices to improve, teachers must step up and become leaders in the classroom to impact the environment and school culture. Six principles are discussed that are critical to making the changes necessary to impact student achievement in schools that serve the poor.

To assist in the battle to improve instruction and student learning in schools that serve the poor, colleges and universities can play a critical role. This thesis describes the preliminary outcomes of two large-scale LSU projects at high need, high poverty schools in the Greater Baton Rouge area: the Pilot Professional Development Project and the Baker Project. It is hoped that the lessons learned will help others to start similar programs at one of the many schools that serve the poor that in dire need for help from higher education mathematics departments.

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