Professor wins grant to support mathematics education

January 26, 2009

McDaniel College has renewed its graduate program for elementary mathematics teacher leadership and formed a national clearinghouse for mathematics specialist programs, partially funded through a multi-year grant from the Brookhill Foundation.

The $400,000 grant will also support program initiatives to ensure the continuing professional development and mentoring of a cadre of mathematics teacher-leaders and elementary school mathematics specialists, and assess the impact of such teaching specialists on student achievement and school district improvement throughout the region.

Francis “Skip” Fennell, professor of Education at McDaniel and immediate past president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, will direct the masters-level program and oversee a major national study to measure the impact elementary mathematics specialists and teacher leaders have on student learning.

“We need elementary school mathematics specialists, elementary classroom teachers who know and understand mathematics and can effectively mentor their colleagues,” says Fennell, who in 2000 served as chair of the Maryland Department of Education’s (MSDE) Mathematics Commission on “Keys to Math Success.” The final report strongly recommended that the State initiate a certification for elementary mathematics specialists.

“Given our country’s need for students with a mathematics and science background and interest, this project is a first step in that direction, with multiple national implications,” he says.

And he aims to prove it with rigorous evaluation. Research studies from this project will establish a national resource center or clearinghouse for data on elementary mathematics specialists and teacher-leaders and provide models of excellence to mathematics professionals worldwide.

According to Fennell, a student’s view of what it means to know and do mathematics is shaped in elementary school, yet in the United States, elementary teachers are, for the most part, generalists. Typically, the pre-service background and general teaching responsibilities of elementary teachers do not furnish the continuous development of specialized knowledge required for teaching mathematics today.

He hopes that this initiative will serve as a catalyst and model for other area institutions as well as provide the momentum to persuade the Maryland State Department of Education to acknowledge and support the certification of elementary mathematics specialists, similar to that of elementary reading specialists. The states of Virginia, Ohio and Massachusetts all have certification for such specialists.

The Brookhill Foundation began its work in April of 2007 to support and establish programs that promote educational excellence. It is Brookhill’s belief that in order to improve educational outcomes, the teaching and learning of mathematics must be strengthened and mastered in the very earliest years of a child’s formal education to provide a foundation for future learning.