Mathematics Literacy Initiative History

A Short History of the Mansfield, Ohio Algebra Project Site

Phase One.

The Mansfield site grew out of a 2009 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant awarded to the Algebra Project, which included a sub-award to the Mansfield campus of the Ohio State University. The sub-award was used to pilot the AP cohort model in Mansfield Senior High School.

In accordance with the grant, Mansfield formed one cohort (21 students) of rising ninth graders, drawn from the lowest performing quartile. Counselors placed students in the class, with no guidance from project leaders, except to require they come from the list of students who were in the lowest quartile on the 8th grade State math and language arts tests.

Mansfield had the most successful cohort of the four sites in the grant, as measured by graduation rate and program retention. College attendance and retention in college was lower than hypothesized, but significantly higher than comparison peers.

The identified key features contributing to a positive outcome were:

  1. The teacher had strong roots in the community.
  2. The district was continuously supportive of the project through all 4 years, in spite of leadership turnover at the High School and the Superintendent’s office.
  3. Grant participants (teachers, project directors, half of the cohort) began a full year before the start of ninth grade and the official beginning of the project. This was made possible by an auxiliary grant received from Ohio State University. The early start gave teachers and project leaders time to absorb the strategies of experiential learning and the Algebra Project 5 Step Curriculum Process.
  4. Starting with and investing in the Young People’s Project, with teacher involvement. Led by the cohort teacher, Mansfield developed a YPP site with students in eighth grade, before they joined the ninth-grade cohort. The teacher’s time-consuming involvement in YPP gave her deep immersion in student-centered learning. After-school and evening family experiences tied the program to student’s families, making many of them strong advocates.

Phase Two.

About three years into the project (in 2011), the leader of Mansfield Schools (Superintendent Dan Freund) initiated an expansion of the existing partnership between the Ohio State Mansfield and the school district. He called for a focus on K-8 teacher professional development, to complement what was happening in the high school.

In response to this proposal, OSU faculty in Math (Lee McEwan) and Math Education (Terri Bucci) worked with a professional development team (Nell Cobb and Bill Crombie) with long history in the Algebra Project. In January 2012, this four member team began monthly 1- and 2-day workshops with a first cohort of K-8 teachers (n = 23). A second cohort was added in Summer 2012. Also in Summer 2012, a team of about 10 teachers elected to spend 5 days working on skills to become “Math Teacher Leaders.”

The following goals were developed.


  1. Reach all mathematics teachers in the district. (About 2000 students in the system.)
  2. Create self-sustaining learning communities.
  3. Show positive results with students.

This phase lasted two years.

While the team included members with long experience in the Algebra Project’s work, the K-6 focus was mostly new, and this period involved lots of experimentation. It had no grant funding; Mansfield City Schools entirely paid for the program.

During this two-year period, Lesson Study (LS) was used as a way to create learning communities. LS was introduced by Nell Cobb, who has a close relationship with Aki Takahashi at DePaul University. In order to expose significant numbers of teachers to a deep immersion in LS, Bucci and Cobb developed the summer CAMP: Collaborative Applications of Mathematics Pedagogy program. CAMP offers a five-day summer camp experience for K-6 students, during which experienced teachers conduct well-thought-out lessons for teachers to observe. Also during this period, Bucci, Crombie, and McEwan developed the idea of starting a permanent Center at Ohio State Mansfield to continue and expand this work.

Phase Three.

During the years 2012-2013, OSU and Algebra Project leaders originated the idea of developing a regional Center at Ohio State Mansfield to provide on-going PD to Mansfield Schools and other school districts in Ohio State Mansfield’s multi-county service area. Ohio State Mansfield provided initial funding for a Center through a loan from its strategic reserve funds. Mansfield Schools agreed to partner with this Center, currently called the OSU Mathematics Literacy Initiative (MLI). The school district offered space in its Springmill Learning Center (SLC), a retired Elementary School building repurposed as a STEM learning center. (The SLC was also created under Dan Freund’s leadership.) The MLI holds monthly PD workshops in this space.

In late 2013, the MLI won a one-year Improving Teacher Quality (ITQ) grant from the Ohio Department of Higher Education, to offer its programming to three school districts, including Mansfield Schools. Funding was renewed in each of the next two years, with the number of school districts participating rising to six. Three small private schools were invited to participate without funding, raising the number of districts served to nine. As of January 2017, several new school districts have expressed interest in working with the MLI. The MLI also won substantial funding from the Department of Defense for curriculum development to support DoD schools worldwide. With these grant successes, the MLI was able to repay its campus loans and is currently operating in the black.

During its first four years of operation, the programming of the MLI evolved into a well-defined 3 year cycle. A school district enters the program in the summer. Teachers take a one-week (30 hour) course, followed by two days (12 hours) of lesson planning. This is followed later in the summer with a one-week Summer Camp, typically in their home district, during which they participate in daily Lesson Study and debrief. The teachers then participate in monthly one-day PD workshops throughout the school year. Twice per year, a workshop is devoted to Lesson Study. This pattern is repeated in the second year, though the summer course in year two is shorter (3 days/18 hours) and builds on their experience and knowledge. During the second year, prospective teacher leaders are identified and recruited, in partnership with their school district. These Math Teacher Leaders (MTLs) begin to take responsibility for extending the pedagogy of the project to other teachers (participants and others), and become the nucleus for a self-sustaining learning community. In the third year, teachers participate in summer camps but do not take a course. Their regular-semester workshops shift toward a focus on leadership development. Beyond year 3, districts may choose to move toward a maintenance level of involvement with the MLI by concentrating on MTL development, or rotate new teachers into the 3-year cycle.

The MLI has used its grant support for rigorous external evaluation, and has devoted significant time and effort to collecting data from school districts to measure effectiveness of the intervention. The MLI is now seeking to partner with regional school districts without relying on grant funding.