UCF researchers have been awarded a nearly $1.5 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation to launch a new program that includes the creation of a new doctoral specialization at UCF and the UCF-Orange County Public Schools’ Noyce Teacher Leader Academy.
The grant will also fund salary supplements for the 15 fellows in the program. The fellows will teach math in Orange County public K-8 schools and must embody a strong commitment to social justice, according to the researchers.
Social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political, and social rights and opportunities, says Sarah Bush, principal investigator, and Juli Dixon, co-principal investigator on the project. Bush is an associate professor in UCF’s College of Community Innovation and Education, and Dixon is a professor of mathematics education in the college.
Project investigators also include Lisa Brooks, an associate lecturer of mathematics education; Malcolm Butler, a professor of science education and director of UCF’s School of Teacher Education; and Brian Moore, an associate professor of mathematics.
“STEM is an area where access for historically excluded populations is a well-known and documented issue,” says Bush. “We want to change that narrative.”
The research fellows, made up of OCPS educators already in the field, will be required to serve as instructional leaders and advocates for their colleagues and students by using a strong knowledge of research-informed and equitable policies, practices and structures.
Many of the fellows have already been working in Orange County Title 1 schools, where the need and opportunity are often the greatest, says Dixon.
“Mentoring is vital and layered…we want to elevate underrepresented educators,” says Dixon. “With this program in place, educators will have the opportunity to not only learn leadership skills in their coursework, but also use those skills to ensure historically excluded students have high-quality mathematics learning experiences. This experience means that mathematics could become a gateway rather than a gatekeeper to future opportunities for students.”
The program also includes a partnership with the nonprofit City Year Orlando, an organization that provides support and resources for high-needs schools by sending their members directly into schools as volunteer student success coaches. Fellows will be given the opportunity to mentor City Year Orlando volunteers.
Orange County Public Schools has worked side by side with UCF professors from the College of Community Innovation and Education.
“This project will allow our most vulnerable schools to attract, recruit and retain educators,” says OCPS chief of staff Bridget Williams. “This will allow a schoolwide focus on improving student achievement in mathematics. The work that Sarah and Juli have done will definitely make a difference in the lives of the teachers who are selected to participate in the program.”
Bush and Dixon say Professor Michele Gill, program coordinator of the education doctorate in curriculum and instruction, has helped provide guidance.
Bush is a former middle school mathematics teacher and received her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction-Mathematics Education from the University of Louisville. She is an associate professor of K-12 STEM education as well as program coordinator of the mathematics education track of a PhD in Education. She was the lead writer of the middle school volume of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Catalyzing Change series which addresses inequitable policies, practices and structures in mathematics education and provides educators with a framework to enact change. Bush joined UCF in 2017.
Dixon is a professor of mathematics education at UCF and was a public-school mathematics teacher at elementary, middle and secondary levels. She is leading the program coordination of the new K-8 Mathematics Education Specialization within the Curriculum and Instruction EdD. Dixon received her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction -Mathematics Education from the University of Florida. She joined UCF in 2000.