Project: COMPASS

Authors: Mark St. John, Kasi Allen Fuller, Nina Houghton, Pamela Tambe, Tamara Evans

Type: Report

Publication: October 2005

Challenging The Gridlock: A Study Of High Schools Using Researched-Based Curricula To Improve Mathematics (pdf, 106 pages)


Despite the success of integrated secondary mathematics programs in other industrialized countries – Japan and Germany, for example – a topic-focused, sequential curriculum has dominated mathematics courses in US high schools for decades and continues to do so. American students begin with Algebra, followed by Geometry, then Algebra II and Trigonometry, and if they meet with success, then Pre-Calculus. Only a select few actually reach the mathematics course that drives this curriculum sequence – Calculus. In other countries, high school students complete math courses that combine ideas from many areas of mathematics, rather than spending an entire year focused on a single subject, like Algebra or Geometry. During the 1990s, mounting evidence suggested that the lack of topic integration in mathematics and an instructional emphasis on procedure in US high school classrooms was putting American students at a distinct disadvantage in the international marketplace. However, the challenge of such a major restructuring at any level – classroom, school, or district – remained daunting.

Towards the end of the decade, a collection of five integrated curricula, all developed with funding the National Science Foundation, appeared on the textbook scene. Over the next few years, a number of schools and districts across the US began to pilot, adopt, and implement these researched-driven, standards-based programs. The early implementers of the five NSF-funded secondary mathematics curricula faced numerous challenges as they attempted to break new ground in high school mathematics education. In the course of their work, they encountered the various and multiple forces that hold the current high school mathematics sequence so firmly in place. As they worked to overcome barriers and to gain the benefits embedded in the new programs, they learned many valuable lessons for the field – lessons that have remained largely unstudied and unreported. This study, commissioned by the COMPASS Implementation Center in Ithaca, NY and conducted by Inverness Research Associates, is a qualitative research project aimed at better understanding and systematically documenting what actually happens to schools and districts that embark on such a path of innovation in mathematics at the secondary level.

Intended Audience

Mathematics Curriculum Developers, Mathematics Educators, Science-Technology-Engineering-Math (STEM) Education Leaders, and general public.


Any and all errors are claimed by the authors of this document, Inverness Research, Inc.

Distribution Policy

Inverness Research Inc. grants permission to print and distribute copies.