$5.5 million grant will support NU, Omaha Public Schools project to bolster math education
Mathematics is one of the most critical building blocks of a well-rounded education, and the University of Nebraska is a leader in preparing the next generation of the state’s math teachers. Now, thanks to a generous grant from two leading Omaha foundations, the university will be in an even stronger position to work with schools and teachers to help Nebraska students improve their math skills.

The Sherwood Foundation and the Lozier Foundation have partnered to provide the $5.5 million grant to the University of Nebraska Foundation. The grant will support a three-year partnership between Omaha Public Schools and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Center for Science, Mathematics and Computer Education called the NebraskaMATH Omaha Public Schools Teacher Leader Academy. Through the academy, a community of OPS mathematics teachers in grades K-12 who are dedicated to strengthening math teaching and learning in Omaha will have access to continuing education and graduate coursework centered on math education. While led by UNL, the new initiative also will involve mathematics education faculty from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

The project will reach more than 250 teachers over three years. The first group of teachers began graduate coursework this month.

“The University of Nebraska is home to outstanding teacher education programs, and this new partnership will allow us to do even more to support teachers as they prepare our students to succeed in the knowledge economy,” NU President James B. Milliken said. “Students and teachers across Omaha will benefit tremendously. I thank the Sherwood Foundation and Lozier Foundation for their vision and generosity.”

UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman said, “Our faculty’s strength in mathematics research, coupled with an innovative partnership with Omaha Public Schools and local foundations, will benefit thousands of Nebraska students.”

Jim Lewis, UNL mathematics professor and director of the Center for Science, Mathematics and Computer Education, said the goals of the OPS initiative are to strengthen mathematics learning in Omaha classrooms, narrow student achievement gaps between different populations and conduct research that continues to inform school improvement efforts.

“This dramatic investment in Omaha’s mathematics teachers will impact student learning throughout the district, both in the short and long term,” Lewis said. “We are extremely grateful to both the Sherwood Foundation and the Lozier Foundation for their support in helping to form the NebraskaMATH Omaha Public Schools Teacher Leader Academy.”

Dianne Lozier, trustee of the Lozier Foundation, said: “The Lozier Foundation cares passionately about the elimination of the academic achievement gap for many in the Omaha area, especially in regard to reading and math. Thus, we are pleased to be a partner in furthering NebraskaMATH so that accountable and effective systems and methods can be implemented for the benefit of all students within the OPS system.”

The academy will offer various programs for teachers, including Primarily Math, a program for K-3 teachers; Math in the Middle, a master’s degree program for grades 4-8 teachers; and fellowships for K-12 math teachers to take courses at no cost. The grant also supports six K-3 and two middle-grade math coaches for OPS.

Throughout the project, university faculty will study the impact of professional development on teachers’ beliefs and knowledge, student outcomes and the impact school culture has on student achievement. They will also establish a studio classroom as a model for implementing instructional change in K-3 classrooms.

“The UNO STEM faculty look forward to continuing our collaboration with UNL on this important initiative,” said Nancy Edick, dean of the College of Education at UNO. “It is a great opportunity to contribute expertise in mathematics and mathematics education to help with the critical goal of increasing student achievement at OPS.”

NebraskaMATH was started in 2009 by the university with funding from the National Science Foundation. It researches the premise that enhancing a teacher’s own math education skills is critical to significantly improving student mathematics achievement. NebraskaMATH partners with public school districts in Grand Island, Lincoln, Papillion-La Vista and Omaha, as well as state Educational Service Units and UNO.

The new project and its research results will provide a national model for effective mathematics teacher education, Lewis said. The OPS Teacher Leader Academy builds on the university's NSF-funded teacher education initiatives, including Math in the Middle, NebraskaMATH and NebraskaNOYCE. Nearly 75 OPS teachers have participated in those programs, forming a base of teacher leaders for the new program.

Instructional teams for the courses will include a mix of OPS master teachers and faculty from UNL, UNO and other area colleges. Collaborating with Lewis on development of the OPS partnership are co-principal investigators Ruth Heaton, professor in the UNL College of Education and Human Sciences, and Wendy Smith, research assistant professor in the UNL College of Arts and Sciences. 

UNO mathematics education faculty members are providing some of the Omaha-area instruction. Angie Hodge, Janice Rech and Michael Matthews of UNO will continue NebraskaMATH collaborative efforts with Lewis.

More information about the Teacher Leader Academy, including program applications for teachers, is available here.

The grant from The Sherwood Foundation and the Lozier Foundation also provide support to the University of Nebraska's current fundraising initiative, the Campaign for Nebraska: Unlimited Possibilities, and its priorities to increase support for students and improve early childhood education. The Campaign for Nebraska has raised more than $1.2 billion for the university thus far and concludes in 2014.

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