Professor Uri Treisman, director
of the Charles A. Dana Center, is always asking questions. Shortly
after joining the faculty at The University of Texas at Austin,
he asked, “How can we best mobilize the resources of the university
to support public education?”
Led by Professor Uri Treisman, the Charles
A. Dana Center's programs and initiatives affect each of Texas’
four million public school students.
Treisman answered the question by building the university's Dana
Center, which this week celebrates its 10-year anniversary with
a reception on Dec. 2 and a day-long symposium on Dec. 3 dedicated
to the theme of “Strengthening Texas Education.”
The Dana Center is unusual among educational organizations in both
its range and its approach. Dana Center initiativeswhich focus
around math and science educationwork with homeless youth
and Advanced Placement mathematics teachers, kindergarten students
and members of the Texas Legislature. They directly or indirectly
reach each of Texas’ four million public school students.
Since the Dana Center has become a key player in math and science
education, Texas students have achieved stunning success in those
fields. Texas is considered a national and global leader in math
education. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)
found that Texas' African American, Hispanic and white students
are ranked first in the country in its "nation's report card"
Student achievement in science has skyrocketed on the Texas Assessment
of Academic Skills (TAAS) and gaps in TAAS performance are rapidly
narrowing between white and minority students.
As Texas students continue to expand their possibilities for learning,
the Dana Center continues to broaden its initiatives. But understanding
the Dana Center is not so much about knowing everything it does.
Data from the National Assessment of Educational
Progress shows that Texas students now lead the nation in
Understanding the Dana Center has more to do with knowing how it
views the challenges of strengthening public education. Every project
the Dana Center undertakes, from tutoring elementary students to
coordinating massive research studies on school finance, is approached
with four guiding principles in mind: equity, collaboration, consensus
It is Friday afternoon on campus in a classroom in Ernest Cockrell
Jr. Hall, and students are laughing. They are not laughing over
weekend plans or stories from the previous night. They are laughing
while they work together on advanced problems for their freshman
Christopher Sinclair, a fifth-year Ph.D. student in mathematics,
moves from group to group checking in, prompting and congratulating.
Students work problems together and point out errors in each other’s
calculations. Working at the board, Sinclair turns toward the class
and says, “This is a fundamental theorem of calculus in its
most glorious and beautiful form.”
This type of enthusiasm is not unusual in workshops in the Emerging
Scholars Program (ESP), a multiethnic honors-level program for freshman
calculus students. ESP offers students six hours of intensive workshops
each week where students work on complex problems in small groups
and as a class.
ESP is a benchmark program of the Dana Center, and its long-term
goal reflects the center’s focus on equity: to have the future
population of mathematicians and scientists reflect the diversity
of the American populace.
While teaching at the University of California at Berkeley in the
1970s, Treisman asked a critical question: What was keeping his
African American and Hispanic students from excelling in calculus?
Their poor success rates were preventing them from going forward
in coursework that would enable them to become engineers, scientists
and academics, but the cause for these poor success rates was not
Treisman’s research found that it was not lack of academic
preparation, motivation or skills that kept the students from succeeding,
but rather a sense of academic isolation. They studied alone, and
they didn’t establish a learning community.
Treisman founded ESP as an answer. Today 150 universities across
the country have programs modeled on ESP, and to date 1,264 students
here have participated in the program. ESP participants consistently
earn grades one-half to one whole grade point higher than those
of their non-ESP counterparts. Moreover, the students create friendships
and learn how to help each other tackle challenging material.
ACEE member Stacie Scruggs tutors Selina,
a second grader, in the after-school Reading Club at Blackshear
Elementary in Austin.
The Dana Center focuses on creating equal opportunities for learning
for all students, regardless of race, region or background.
“The accident of where a child goes to school must not affect
his or her opportunity to engage in challenging coursework,”
This is supported across the learning spectrum in numerous programs.
The Dana Center is the home of the university’s only national
service program, AmeriCorps for Community Engagement and Education
(ACEE). ACEE, whose 53 members commit to a year of service, provides
early literacy intervention in six Austin elementary schools. Members
tutor students from kindergarten through the third grade, and they
also work closely with communities and families to support students
in the schools.
Mary Ellen Isaacs directs the ACEE program for the Dana Center.
She notes that the research-based curriculum for ACEE, as well as
the support it gives to its members through providing an on-site
literacy expert at each school, reflects the Dana Center approach
to its projects.
“We really are about equity,” she says. “We are
trying to create future learners who are well-prepared, no matter
what their situation. We work with them at the very beginning of
their schooling to build the foundation for future academic success.”
If ESP shows that students learn best in a collaborative environment,
it follows that the work of improving students’ education
can best be done in a collaborative environment.
“We don’t do anything in isolation,” says Susan
Hull, project director for the Dana Center mathematics team. “We
actually work with leaders, with teachers, with higher education,
with administration and with professional organizations across the
state to create all of our products.”
Collaboration is key to the success of one of the projects for
which the Dana Center is best known. In 1994 the Texas Education
Agency (TEA) named the Dana Center the subcontractor to coordinate
development of the math and science standards for every school child
in the state.
accident of where a child goes to school must not affect
his or her opportunity to engage in challenging coursework.”
Professor Uri Treisman
Charles A. Dana Center
To undertake this massive project, the Dana Center assembled action
teams that represented all of the major stakeholders, brought people
together at conferences and field tested its findings.
“That’s the spirit of the Dana Center,” Hull
says. “We are not doing something to somebody, but working
with networks to help people create things.”
The standards they helped develop, known as the mathematics and
science Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), were adopted
by the Texas State Legislature in 1997, and implementation of the
TEKS has been a focus of Dana Center work since then.
The Dana Center developed numerous resources to support teachers
in teaching the TEKS. Its TEKS Toolkits in math and science provide
free comprehensive resources online and include everything from
overviews of the TEKS to classroom guides. These online toolkits
received more than 1.5 million visits during the 2001-02 academic
The Dana Center also provides professional development opportunities
for teachers and administrators through its Texas Teachers Empowered
for Achievement in Mathematics and Science (TEXTEAMS) and TEKS for
Leaders series. Hull says the Dana Center professional development
has served more than 130,000 teachers in mathematics and science.
Donna Wise, K-12 science consultant at the education service center
in Kilgore, says that when she speaks to teachers who are preparing
students for the new state assessment in the 96 public schools she
serves, “The first place I send them is to the Dana Center
toolkit Web site.”
Dana Center products such as charts, posters and sample activities
are essential to her job of helping teachers. And Wise confirms
that collaboration never stops at the Dana Center.
“One of the things I love about the Dana Center,” she
says, “is that they’re always looking for new teachers
or fresh ideas to help build new products. They are always looking
for new ways to help teachers.”
The Dana Center has come to be known as an expert at getting people
to work together.
“The Dana Center was successful in building a mathematics
community that is not at war,” says Paula Gustafson, mathematics
director at the TEA.
In other states, there are groups fighting about what it is important
“What they’ve done most effectively,” Gustafson
says, “is they’ve involved the state at all levels in
conferences, panels, etc., so that you have a wide range of people
coming together for a common purpose.”
Student performance on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills
has been improving since 1995, and gaps in performance between
white and minority students are narrowing.
Consensus is key when undertaking projects that require continuity
across the state. When the TEA contracted with the Dana Center to
create a new science safety manual, Jim Collins, science programs
coordinator at the Dana Center, says the center thought it would
be easy: “Oh, we’ll do the research, write the manual
and get that out.”
Instead, they discovered that safety standards for science classrooms
across the state were inconsistent, and teachers weren’t getting
current and correct information on what procedures they needed to
follow to create a safe place for their students.
“It was amazing,” says Collins. “We would never
think of sending our football team out onto the field without helmets,
but we send our kids into the lab without safety goggles.”
The Dana Center assembled a team that included contractors, engineers,
experts at the TEA and Texas Department of Health, as well as people
working in science classrooms, to establish safety standards. And
it got them to agree.
The Dana Center now has written a second edition of a safety manual
specific to Texas laws, plus two versions of a national manual,
as well as science facility standards. It has worked with the legislature
to standardize what should be in a science classroom. It trains
teachers and district leaders throughout the state on safety.
Collins says that the Dana Center understands that building consensus
begins with allowing people to be heard.
“Sometimes our greatest role is to listen,” he says.
always keep the individual child’s face foremost in
our mind in everything we do.”
Professor Uri Treisman
Charles A. Dana Center
“I never tell anybody to vote for or against a bill,”
says Harrison Keller, project director for policy at the Dana Center.
Instead, he says, the Dana Center tries to be an “honest broker,”
offering policy makers the information they need to deliberate.
Policy work at the Dana Center is undertaken in three primary ways:
through conducting large-scale research projects around educational
issues; through providing technical support, often commenting on
proposed policy and helping to draft legislation; and through assisting
in education through graduate seminars in policy, information sessions
for legislative staffers, briefing candidates and sending speakers
to state and national conferences.
The Dana Center is able to work with the legislature in such varying
ways because it maintains what Treisman calls “a rigorous
neutrality and independence.” It does not advocate, it informs.
In the upcoming legislative session in 2003, Keller and Treisman
will be offering a pre-session workshop for legislative staff focused
around key education issues.
In conjunction with a graduate seminar at the LBJ School for Public
Affairs, the Dana Center is preparing policy briefs for the workshop
on school finance, standards and accountability, teacher quality
and other issues. The briefing documents will offer an overview
of the issue and then put the key competing positions side by side.
Maintaining this neutrality enables the Dana Center to do policy
work that has wider impact than simply advocating for an issue could.
Professor Uri Treisman will continue to ask questions to discover
how the university can help strengthen public education.
“The thread that runs through all of the policy work that
we do is the question, ‘How do we improve the quality of deliberations
about education policy?’” says Keller. “If people
have better information and balanced information and are able to
ask harder questions of each other, we’ll get better policy.”
Looking to the Future
When looking at the state of math and science education in Texas,
it is hard to find areas where the Dana Center is not having an
impact. Dana Center initiatives demonstrate what a rich resource
the universityworking in partnership with policymakers, educators,
state agencies and local communitiescan be for Texas education.
When asked to reflect on the past 10 years at the Dana Center,
Treisman says that mathematicians aren’t interested in looking
at the past.
“We’re interested in what hasn’t been done, what
we can’t yet do,” he says.
The most important thing for Treisman is that the future reflects
the ultimate goal of the Dana Center: that each and every student,
regardless of race, location or economic status receives the best
He says, “We always keep the individual child’s face
foremost in our mind in everything we do.”