A grant recently awarded to the National Implementation Research Network at the UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute will help ensure students are receiving high-quality mathematics education in middle school — crucial years that can impact students’ chances at successful high school graduation and post-secondary career success.

Although more middle schools are adopting high-quality math curriculums, research shows the systems that support instruction are often lacking or misaligned, especially for underrepresented and marginalized students.

NIRN will help address this issue as a Learning Partner for the Effective Implementation Cohort, or EIC, thanks to funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Overall, the foundation will invest approximately $47 million into the cohort of curriculum and professional learning providers and their partnering Local Education Agencies. NIRN has received an almost $6.2 million award.

The EIC is an investment within the Gates Foundation’s K-12 Math Delivery body of work, specifically focusing on middle years mathematics. The work is centered on increasing district, school and teacher capacity to implement a high-quality math curriculum with integrity to improve outcomes for priority student populations, which the foundation defines as students who are Black, Latina/Latino, English language learners and/or those experiencing poverty.

“This investment is allowing NIRN to provide implementation supports in an effort to advocate successful mathematics trajectories for middle school priority student populations,” said Ximena Franco-Jenkins, an advanced research scientist at FPG and co-principal investigator on this project.

Nineteen districts from seven states make up the EIC — including one district each in North Carolina, Arizona, Maryland and Georgia; three districts in New York; and six districts each in California and Texas. These specific states are participating because they have higher proportions of priority student populations. In addition, these districts are diverse in terms of size and locale, including urban, suburban and rural settings.

The goal of the EIC is to generate nationally scalable insights to help districts better manage and monitor curriculum implementation through the development of practical tools to guide their work. A key part of this is also understanding how to determine when districts are ready to implement a curriculum, and what they need to do to get ready if they aren’t yet.

In addition, findings from the EIC will help districts select high-quality implementation partners, influence the supply of implementation supports and improve the field’s understanding of “good” implementation. With support from Kitamba, a social impact consulting and products firm dedicated to improving learning and life outcomes for all children, NIRN will facilitate these activities of the EIC.

NIRN participated in the first phase of this work last spring, laying the groundwork for this larger project.

“We were thrilled to be part of the planning phase, designing and co-creating a cohort-wide learning agenda,“ said Caryn Ward, senior implementation specialist at FPG, director of NIRN and principal investigator for this project. “We’re excited to be moving into the actual implementation of that learning agenda and the work that’s happening, working with implementation providers and their districts to change practices at the classroom level for students for the next three and a half years.”

Within the scope of this project, Ward and her co-primary investigators, Franco-Jenkins and Collin McColskey-Leary, are working toward two primary goals:

  • To produce actionable outcomes for priority student populations.
  • To produce practical evidence and tools for the field to use in their work of pursuing equitable outcomes for children.

Ward also noted the benefits for her team in doing this work.

“This project provides an opportunity to do exactly the work NIRN hopes to be growing in its portfolio,” said Ward. “It’s a hybrid project where we’re not only supporting implementation best practices, but we’re also collecting and analyzing data to answer the question, ‘How much does implementation affect student learning, for who, and in what context.’”

McColskey-Leary and Franco-Jenkins are also pleased about the hybrid nature of this project. Franco-Jenkins explained the dual role of NIRN means they’re not only collecting data to answer the learning questions, but they will be turning around reports to district teams quickly so that data can be used to make informed decisions in nearly real time.

“Very rarely do you have such a strong connection between implementation and evaluation,” said McColskey-Leary. “I’m excited that this project gives us a unique opportunity to explore both and partner internally here at FPG.”

The EIC team is excited about the potential of this project to create learnings that inform equitable implementation practice.

This grant award counts toward the Campaign for Carolina, the University’s most ambitious fundraising campaign in history, launched in October 2017 with a goal to raise $4.25 billion by Dec. 31, 2022.

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