Date of Award

Winter 2004

Project Type


Program or Major

Mathematics Education

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Karen Graham


Educational policies aimed at reforming school mathematics education have been disseminated at an increasing rate in recent years. The impact of such policies hinges on if and how constituents decide to implement the policy recommendations, and these decisions depend largely on constituents' interpretations of the policy. Investigating how classroom teachers make sense of policy recommendations is particularly important, for teachers are the ones who ultimately decide what mathematics students learn, and how they learn it. This research followed a group of teachers as they studied a particular instructional policy, Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (NCTM, 2000). Fourteen middle school mathematics teachers formed a study group to read and discuss the document's messages and recommendations. This study aimed to characterize the nature and content of teachers' discussions, to trace the ideas teachers developed about the document, and to investigate the impact this experience had on teachers' beliefs, knowledge, priorities, and classroom practice.

Data sources included audio and videotapes of sixteen study group sessions, teacher journal entries, electronic listserv discussions, interviews, and classroom observations. Analyses of the study group discussions were conducted in two phases. The first phase consisted of a turn-by-turn analysis of each teacher's individual contributions to the conversations. The second phase consisted of a more global analysis in which each study group transcript was chunked into distinct conversational episodes. Coding schemes were developed to capture the major themes that emerged in the study group conversations, and to characterize the cognitive demand posed by the topic under discussion and by the group's treatment of that topic.

Results indicate that teachers came to view the document from multiple lenses---as a warrant for their current beliefs or practices, a lever for effecting change, a tool for their own learning, and a curriculum map. The ways in which teachers came to view the document were related to the particular demands, priorities, and characteristics of their local school contexts. Results suggest that instructional policy documents like Principles and Standards can be generative---they can stimulate rich conversations among teachers, and such conversations are fruitful sites for teachers' professional learning.