Skip to main content

Welcome, you are visiting DEBT-M

DEBT-M Profile

Designing for Equity by Thinking in and about Mathematics


The five-year Targeted Partnership and Implementation project, Designing for Equity By Thinking in and about Mathematics (DEBT-M), is a community of mathematical practice devoted to closing the opportunity gap for marginalized secondary mathematics students in Pittsburgh. Core Partners in DEBT-M are the Education Development Center (EDC) as the lead, and the Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS), the University of Pittsburgh (UPITT), and the Iowa State University. Duquesne University's Melissa Boston and Carol Parke are leading the external evaluation. The project team is investigating how the opportunity gap can be addressed through a focused program of professional development that involves teachers, mathematicians, and mathematics educators as equal partners. The context for this work is the mathematics program in grades 6-12 in PPS with around 4000 students in this grade band, more than one quarter of whom are struggling, underrepresented mathematics learners. The target audience is the teachers of these students, as well as the IHE faculty in Core Partner institutions. The primary STEM field involves mathematics that surrounds high school algebra. Goals for the IHE partners include close alliances with the teachers in Pittsburgh and participation in the development and implementation of new experiences for the whole partnership.

DEBT-M's inaugural year is followed by two consecutive two-year cycles of immersive summer professional development with intensive school-year follow-up. During each year, four follow-up activities support teachers in shifting practice in the classroom and furthering the community of doers of mathematics: colloquia, monthly seminars, bi-weekly study groups, and visits by all partners to participating schools. Regarding thinking about mathematics and mathematics learning, the project team focuses on what mathematics is and how experiences have shaped teachers' perspectives. Teachers also focus on how mathematics education has shaped learner identities. DEBT-M provides experiences and opportunities to construct what they conjecture are critical perspectives, dispositions, and expertise that in turn enable all partners to collectively determine what aspects of practice to address and how to address them. The last week of each summer is focused exclusively on this collaborative, professional effort. Partners and participants together draw on their summer work and learning to make decisions about implementing classroom practices in courses with struggling students', decisions that are supported, studied, and analyzed throughout the school year with the study groups, seminars, equity fellows, etc.

DEBT-M includes both an external evaluation and a design-based, internal research component. The internal research study investigates, tests, and refines a set of conjectures about how school districts can, at scale, both transform teaching to embody a rigorous disciplinary approach and significantly reduce mathematics opportunity gaps that exist for African-American and low-SES students who have been systemically marginalized over time. A mixed-methods approach is used to answer the research questions, with analyses of a variety of data, including student surveys of identity and connection to teacher; PD and classroom video; teacher habits of mind assessments; district artifacts; recordings of parent-and-child focus groups; and annual interviews with teachers and school- and district-leaders. The external evaluation is designed to assess the quality of the professional development, its impact on teachers' instructional practices, and its impact on student achievement. Teachers are recruited from the one urban school district (PPS), with a focus on high schools and their feeder middle schools.

Products of the DEBT-M project are expected to include new professional development materials that integrate mathematical content with explicit treatment of both the practice of mathematics and the practice of engagement for all students with a clear focus on working with marginalized students. The project team brings together instruments that assist in the diagnosis of aspects of high school settings that impact on mathematics professional development and student learning efforts.