GE Foundation Grant to Fund Math Common Core Research

The GE Foundation has awarded a $1 million grant to William Schmidt, a professor from Michigan State University, to study new and innovative ways to improve the quality of mathematics instruction in the United States. Schmidt, who is the University Distinguished Professor in the College of Education, will be looking at how school districts across the country are implementing Common Core Standards in math.

This is not Professor Schmidt’s first foray into research on math instruction. This time he is combining his efforts with two organizations that were instrumental in the development of the mathematics portion of the Common Core: the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governor’s Association. The final draft of Common Core Standards was completed in 2010, and all states but six have already committed to adopting them as part of their curriculum.

Previously, Schmidt and his team conducted surveys of school district curriculum directors, teachers, parents and students in the states that had officially adopted the standards. They identified three potential impediments to the successful implementation of the Common Core: textbooks, teachers and leadership.

Although wide adoption of Common Core is purported to do much towards improving math education in America, it will not take schools the entire way. The way the standards are adopted will also play a key role in determining if implementation is a success, and determining an optimal way will be the main focus of Schmidt’s GE-funded research project. At its completion, Professor Schmidt hopes to have a series of tools to present to district and school administrators as well as teachers themselves to ensure that the new standards translate to mathematics success for students.

One major challenge is that the most widely used textbooks are poorly aligned with the standards and there is little evidence that the right kind of textbooks will be released in the near future, placing a substantial burden on teachers and administrators to restructure their curricula.

The teachers’ lack of training the subject itself could prove to be another substantial hurdle that schools will need to overcome,  as the rigorous material covered by the Common Core might be above the skill level of the instructors entrusted with teaching it. How to overcome this skill gap will also be one of Schmidt’s research challenges.

The next phase of Schmidt’s research will include: continued development of a virtual system for textbook analysis and classroom common core implementation; a follow-up of the future teachers who participated in the TEDS-M project and are now teaching; surveys of district curriculum personnel, teachers and parents about the Common Core; and the ongoing study of states’ implementation of the CCSSM.