Karen King Wins NSF Grant to Study Teachers’ Use of Mathematics Textbooks

The choice of which mathematics textbook works best for middle school instruction has long been a point of argument among educators. School districts want to know which textbook works best and why, reinforcing the assumption that textbook selection is the overriding factor in improving student outcomes in mathematics.

Karen D. King, associate professor of mathematics education at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, seeks to re-frame the debate regarding math instruction by focusing instead on how teachers adapt instructional materials in the classroom. Recently, she was awarded a $998,955 grant from the National Science Foundation for a mixed-methods research study of mathematics instruction within a New Jersey school district.

"This project seeks to move the discourse surrounding math textbooks beyond ‘what works?’ and toward helping teachers effectively use high quality instructional materials," said King. "While the choice of textbook is important, I would argue that it is not nearly as important as critics or advocates of certain textbooks would have you believe."

Using a sample of 30 schools, the project team will survey all middle school mathematics teachers on how they adapt and supplement the Connected Mathematics Project (CMP) materials and why. CMP is an NSF-funded mathematics curriculum that is widely used in schools. Two schools will serve as case study schools to provide additional qualitative data.

Researchers will observe math teachers over at least two consecutive days and will conduct pre- and post-observation interviews to examine how the teacher uses CMP material in his or her planning and implementation of a lesson.

The project will also collect student data in the form of scaled test scores on state mathematics tests as well as student interviews. Analysis will focus on describing the ways in which teachers use the materials and on determining the relationship between instructional methods and students’ achievement.

The research is taking place among a group of students who are underrepresented in mathematics; the study will be of interest to research, policy, and practice communities. King also points out that the results of the study will be of great interest to curriculum developers, who will benefit from the findings as they design instructional materials.