Project: Portland Urban Systemic Program (USP)

Authors: Barbara Heenan, Becky Carroll, Kasi Allen, Laurie Lopez, Mark St. John

Type: Report

Publication: April 2008

The Portland Urban Systemic Program (USP): Five Years of Building Systemic Support for Math and Science Education Improvement – 2001-2006 (pdf, 35 pages)


Beginning in September, 2001 when the Portland Public Schools received funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) through the Urban Systemic Program (USP) initiative, the district focused, accelerated and strengthened its efforts to improve mathematics and science education K-12. Since its inception we at Inverness Research Associates served as the external evaluators to the Portland USP. The overarching goal of our evaluation was to document and assess the growth and development of the overall capacity of Portland Public Schools to improve K-12 mathematics and science instruction.

This final report describes what we learned about the specific accomplishments of the Portland USP. It also illuminates what we learned about the realization of the district’s broader vision which both pre-dates NSF funding and will remain after the grant ends–namely, the establishment of a district-wide, on-going and self-sustaining system of supports for math and science improvement.

Our report is organized in the following way:
Part One: Introduction
We introduce the Portland USP, the National Science Foundation’s Urban Systemic Program initiative, Inverness Research Associates, and the purposes and organization of this report.
Part Two: The Portland USP
We explicate the theory of action of the Portland USP and provide a brief description of the major components and activities that comprised the program.
Part Three: The Six Cornerstone Claims
This section stands as the body of the report. It is organized around each of the six cornerstone claims we feel the USP is justified in making based on our evidence of the efficacy of its work.

  • Claim #1 – Teacher leadership provides district capacity for math and science improvement.
  • Claim #2 – Collegial culture at school sites supports instructional improvement in math and science.
  • Claim #3 – Professional supports for teachers enables them to improve math and science instruction.
  • Claim #4 – A broad and deep level of curriculum implementation strengthens math and science education for students.
  • Claim #5 – Through the work of the USP students increasingly receive a steady diet of good instruction in mathematics and science.
  • Claim #6 – Through the work of the USP the district has put in place an infrastructure for improvement in mathematics and science.

The discussion of each claim includes three sub-sections: 1) the rationale for the project’s focus on the dimension from which the claim stems; 2) an account of our findings and our evidence for the claim; 3) a summary of the significance of the findings.
Part Four: Conclusion
In this final section of the report we step back to view the overall capacity building of the Portland Urban Systemic Program over time. We conclude with our own thinking about the value and significance of the project.

Intended Audience

Science-Technology-Engineering-Math (STEM) Education Leaders, Science and Mathematics Educators, District Administrators and School Leaders, Funders, 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.