Policy and Math Education: A Conference

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This past week, I attended a conference at UC Berkeley about policy and math ed organized by Geoff Saxe, Na’ilah Nasir, and their amazing graduate students. The gathering had two main purposes:  to get a group of math ed researchers together to talk about issues related to the Common Core, and to mentor junior researchers in their work. I think the conference met the second goal very strongly and the first one more loosely.

Let me give a brief overview of the main events.

  • Alan Schoenfeld gave a keynote about his work on TRU Math and the Formative Assessment Lessons. He shared his work, some initial findings, and areas of research opened up by these tools.
  • Marty Simon, Jenny Langer-Osuna, and Elham Kazemi led breakout discussion sessions on learning trajectories, equity, and professional development respectively. (Elham is also on Twitter and worth a follow.)
  • Doctoral and postdoctoral students poster sessions
  • A symposium on improving mathematics teaching and learning. Danny Martin talked about researching issues of race in mathematics education. Paul Cobb shared the district partnership work from the MIST project, pointing to gaps in what we study and what school leaders need. Then I talked about how policy operates as a context for teacher learning, sharing some of my findings about math teachers’ encounters with NCLB.
  • A closing session with commentary on the research shared. Carol Lee talked about different challenges in implementing the Common Core in English Language Arts, as well as what it means to teach in ways that consider children’s cognitive, social, emotional, and physiological development. Rogers Hall provided a synthesis of much of the research, talking about the importance of “mutterings” about research (complaints and dissatisfaction) and what it takes to turn mutterings to utterings so that different voices are heard and valued. Anna Sfard challenged researchers to increase their conceptual accountability in their work by making their language clearer and their communications more accessible.

Of course, this summary does not do justice to the richness of the conversations or the key insights gleaned. (Raymond Johnson storified some of the tweets from the conference if you want to check them out.) Of course, the in-between social time was enriching as well. I had some great conversations with Kris Gutiérrez, Tesha Sengupta Irving, Niral Shah, and Nicole Louie.

The question and answer sessions after the main events had a collegial but challenging tone. The conversations gave us a chance to ask our most pressing questions to people who are great to think with.

I, for one, am left with tremendous humility about the complexity of the research and educational enterprise. The doctoral students and postdocs seemed to really appreciate the experience as well. It seems like these small, focused forums have a value we can’t always get at bigger conferences whose aim is to present finished work instead of share in difficult puzzles.

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