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October 4, 2004

$1.5 million funds UCSC research on math education for Latinos

By Jennifer McNulty

In a sign that the federal government is tackling the persistent problem of low mathematics achievement among Latino schoolchildren, the National Science Foundation has funded an ambitious $10 million, five-year research center focused on improving student performance.

Faculty members Judit Moschkovich and Julia Aguirre Photo: Jennifer McNulty

Two UCSC faculty members will be participating in the four-campus collaboration, which is being led by the University of Arizona (UA).

"There are persistent and disturbing achievement patterns among Latinos," said Julia Aguirre, an assistant professor of education at UCSC, who is coordinating the campus's contributions to the center with associate professor of education Judit Moschkovich, the lead UCSC researcher on the project.

In a recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) study, Latino student math scores were among the lowest of all racial and ethnic groups. "We need to turn this around or Latinos won't be able to participate responsibly or compete equally in a democratic society," said Aguirre.

The new Center for the Mathematics Education of Latinos/as (CEMELA) will address the mathematics needs of Latino students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The center will examine math learning and teaching in school, family, and community settings. The goal is to discover new ways to teach Latino students mathematics by building on the cultural and linguistic diversity they bring to the classroom. Research insights and new methods will ultimately benefit all students, noted Moschkovich.

UCSC will receive $1.5 million over five years to support faculty, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers, and to work with new teachers through the UCSC New Teacher Center. The center will draw on the expertise of other UCSC education faculty, as well. By recruiting and training researchers with expertise in mathematics learning and teaching, language, and culture, CEMELA will develop the next generation of scholars who will, in turn, prepare the next generation of classroom teachers. The other CEMELA participants are the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of New Mexico.

The new multidisciplinary center will support multiple research avenues. Moschkovich's own work focuses on how students learn mathematics in and out of school. Her research has documented the resources students use to communicate mathematical concepts, including two languages and their everyday experiences. "We have research that shows that kids learning English can participate in high-level mathematical discussions,” she said.

Aguirre, whose research focuses on teachers, school culture, and the teaching process, said her work explores how teachers' beliefs about mathematics, students, learning, and equity affect student achievement, and how schools as organizations affect what teachers do in the classroom.

"I look at the workplace culture to see how the norms and values of a department or school interact with individual teachers' values and how those factors influence the math teaching that goes on in the classroom,” she explained.

CEMELA will build on this research and will support research collaborations among the four sites. The grant will also support teacher education by developing and disseminating innovative materials for use in courses and seminars at the four sites. Researchers will also work with the New Teacher Center to support professional development opportunities for new teachers in the Pajaro Valley Unified School District and North Monterey County Unified School District.


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