Deborah Spencer’s career is distinguished by her drive to help teachers and administrators make thoughtful, informed decisions about mathematics curriculum and instruction. She brings extensive expertise in research and development in mathematics curricula, instructional design for professional learning, and teacher leadership in mathematics. She has a particular interest in standards-based mathematics curricula and has partnered with school districts, curriculum developers, and researchers to strengthen implementation efforts across the country.
Spencer and colleagues June Mark and Paul Goldenberg of EDC, and Laura O’Dwyer of Boston College, are co-principal investigators (PIs) for the NSF-funded study, Supporting Success in Algebra: A Study of the Implementation of Transition to Algebra, which is working with 70 schools across the country to look at the effects of an innovative course designed to support students at risk of failure in algebra.
Spencer is also currently the co-PI, with June Mark, of a large-scale study investigating the effects of a district-level improvement strategy centered on use of high-quality materials in 153 elementary schools by over 2000 teachers. Emerging results suggest a potential effect of well-supported interventions on student outcomes; schools with higher levels of support from districts on average had students who grew significantly more in 4th-grade math scores than schools with less support, even controlling for percentage of low-income students.
As co-PI of Implementing the Mathematical Practice Standards, Spencer leads research and dissemination efforts for a project that is developing engaging online professional learning resources and a professional development curriculum for Grades 5–10 teachers to clarify the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice (SMP). Her team has field-tested the professional development with over 400 teachers, and pilot studies found promising results.
Spencer is also the co-PI for the iPuzzle project, which is developing engaging digital puzzles that build foundational ideas in algebra and are designed to influence student engagement, perseverance, and logical thinking. Dubbed “Solve Me Puzzles,” the collection includes SolveMe Mobiles, Who am I?, and MysteryGrid apps. SolveMe Mobiles is available for free download in the iTunes App Store and won “Best in Category” for Digital Media at the 2015 New England Book Show.
As a senior advisor to preschool projects, Spencer advances efforts to enhance young children's math learning and promote their school readiness and success. Currently, she is advising the Games for Young Mathematicians team in developing and researching a professional development program that shows Head Start teachers how to play fun, appropriate, and challenging math games with children, and gives them skills to scaffold children's persistence and support their growth mindset. She is also advising a related family engagement project funded by the Heising-Simons Foundation that is developing resources based on Games for Young Mathematicians for parents.
Previously, with June Mark, Spencer directed the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded K–12 Mathematics Curriculum Center (1997–2004), which provided resources on standards-based instructional materials, helping teachers and administrators make thoughtful, informed decisions about mathematics curriculum and instructional materials. The Center had extensive reach, serving 1,600 schools and 600 districts from all 50 states, and offering seminars to over 2,200 participants.
Spencer is coauthor of "Curriculum Leadership in Selecting Mathematics Instructional Materials" (NCSM Journal); "How Do Districts Choose Mathematics Textbooks?”; Mathematics Assessment: Cases and Discussion Questions for Grades K–5; Teacher Leadership in Mathematics and Science; From Counting to Calculus: Connecting Across Grades; Casebook on School Reform; Exploring Classroom Assessment: A Guide for Professional Development; and Learning About Assessment, Learning Through Assessment.
Spencer received an AB from Dartmouth College and an EdM from the Harvard Graduate School of Education with a concentration in administration, planning, and social policy.