PSU math ed professor gets NSF grant to develop anti-bias training for teachers

Elementary-aged kid solving math problems on whiteboard

Teachers' biases, whether intentional or not, can impact students' learning experiences. That's why a Portland State professor is helping to create a professional development model aimed at preemptively reducing bias among math teachers in grades K-12.

Eva Thanheiser, professor of mathematics education at PSU, is collaborating with researchers at Chapman University, Oregon State University and the Teachers Development Group on the National Science Foundation-funded project around anti-bias mathematics teaching. Of the $2.3 million in total funding, PSU is expected to receive $640,568 to support the work. 

"Everyone, including teachers, hold biases, which lead to treating students differently even when holding positive intentions,” Thanheiser said. "This leads to different opportunities for different students in the K-12 classrooms. Our goal is for all of us involved in the project — researchers, teachers, etc. — to acknowledge and address our own biases and work on removing the persistent inequities that result from those biases."

The researchers will work with 12 teacher-leaders, teachers who commit to developing new skills and methods, applying them in the classroom and then providing ongoing support to their peers. Through those leaders, the researchers will engage with an additional 60 teachers working across three school districts serving racially, ethnically, linguistically, and socio-economically diverse communities.

The project aims to understand how a community-centered, on-the-job professional development model supports the development of teacher-leaders' knowledge, dispositions and practices for teaching and leading anti-bias mathematics education. It will also examine how teachers' subsequent classroom practice can cultivate students' mathematical engagement and interests.

"We will collaborate with parents and the community to draw on their knowledge and goals for their children as well as with educational stakeholders and leadership as that is the only way to dismantle persistent and systemic inequities," Thanheiser said.

The team plans to share resources and tools with the broader community of mathematics educators and researchers. Thanheiser's co-collaborators include Cathery Yeh, assistant professor of teacher education at Chapman University; Rebekah Elliott, associate professor of mathematics education at Oregon State; and Ruth Heaton, chief executive officer of Teachers Development Group, an Oregon-based nonprofit dedicated to improving all students' mathematical understanding and achievement through meaningful, effective professional development for teachers and school leaders.