Elementary Mathematics Specialists

Promoting Mathematics Specialists as a promising strategy for building teacher expertise, raising student achievement and advancing school reform.

About the Project

The Elementary Mathematics Specialist in Illinois Project began when teams from University of Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago, and DePaul University came together to discuss an elementary math specialist model as a mechanism for improving mathematics education in the greater Chicago area. The cross-University project team has developed a series of courses to prepare Elementary Mathematics Specialists. The courses are currently being piloted in Chicago and in the south Cook County suburbs. In addition, the team is working with a wide range of stakeholders to propose endorsements for Elementary Math Teachers and Elementary Math Specialists to the Illinois State Board of Education.

The EMS Landscape Study

With funding from the CME Group Foundation and encouragement from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), the cross-university project team collaborated with researchers to conduct a landscape study of Illinois school districts and higher education institutions to further evaluate and document the need and interest in the proposed credentials across the state. The landscape study was conducted during Spring and Summer 2019 and utilized a mixed-methods approach. Download the landscape report and its appendices, as well as a study brief below.

EMS Report


EMS Brief


What are Elementary Math Specialists?

Elementary Math Specialists (EMS) support and advocate for high-quality mathematics teaching and learning at the classroom, school, district, or state levels.

There are a variety of roles that EMS may have:


    EMS may work primarily with students. They may teach mathematics at one or more grade levels. EMS may also be tasked with providing remedial or enrichment support in their school.


    EMS may work primarily with teachers. They may provide support for improving mathematics teaching and learning in their schools or districts by providing professional learning experiences for or by mentoring their colleagues.


    EMS may work to improve mathematics teaching and learning in their schools and districts by providing various kinds of leadership in their communities. For example, they may serve on curriculum committees, help with analyzing assessments, or provide a resource for reaching out to the parent community.

Why do we need EMS?

Only 56%, 54%, and 46% of elementary school teachers felt they were very well prepared to teach measurement, geometry, and early algebra respectively.

2012 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education

Recent studies suggest that elementary teachers are not likely to have received the 12 hours of specialized mathematics coursework recommended in the 2012 MET II (CBMS, 2012).

Most elementary teachers are generalists, rarely developing in-depth knowledge and expertise with regard to teaching elementary mathematics.

“it is unrealistic to expect our generalist elementary teachers to possess this kind of mathematical knowledge”
(Wu, 2009).

Differences in teachers account for 12% to 14% of total variability in students mathematics’ achievement gains during an elementary school year.

Not possible to scale up mathematics training to meet the vast needs of the elementary school teaching force.

Training EMS is a practical alternative.

The National Mathematics Advisory Panel (2008)

Simply taking more mathematics
courses may not enhance the knowledge and skills needed by elementary teachers. (Battista, 1994).

Get Involved

Write a Letter of Support

Show your support for Elementary Mathematics Specialists in Illinois by writing a letter of support. Sample templates are provided here for a letter on behalf of a school or of a district. Please tailor these letters as you see fit. We will share all letters with ISBE.

Send your letter of support to:



Kathleen Pitvorec
Learning Sciences Research Institute
1240 W. Harrison Ave.,
Room 1535
Chicago, IL 60607

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