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A Quiet Revolution: One Districtís Story of Radical Curricular Change in High School Mathematics

reviewed by Leslie Dietiker & Jill Newton - May 02, 2019

coverTitle: A Quiet Revolution: One Districtís Story of Radical Curricular Change in High School Mathematics
Author(s): Michael D. Steele & Craig Huhn
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1641131810, Pages: 218, Year: 2018
Search for book at Amazon.com

Department chairs can be change agents. But what if you’re not a department chair? What can we teachers do?” – High school mathematics teacher, 2019.


The above question was posed during a recent discussion on opening up access and removing barriers for students to take advanced mathematics courses. In a substantial way, this is the central question answered by the authors of A Quiet Revolution: One District’s Story of Radical Curricular Change in High School Mathematics. Craig Huhn, a 20-year veteran mathematics teacher at Holt High School, in Holt, Michigan, along with Michael D. Steele, a mathematics teacher educator and researcher who was involved in reform efforts at the school during his time at Michigan State University, offer an instructive roadmap for reform for mathematics teachers, teacher educators, administrators, and other community members.

The authors describe the transformational journey of the Holt High School (HHS) mathematics department; that is, the process of how it was transformed, as well as the results (albeit, still unfolding) of this transformation. They detail how a set of mathematics teachers, with a supportive university partnership, navigated changing demographics, curricular policy, and administrative leadership. While doing so, the authors provide insights into the key factors that have contributed to their success. The achievement of changing what it means to teach and learn mathematics at HHS has been the focus of other books, namely Beyond Formulas in Mathematics and Teaching: Dynamics of the High School Algebra Classroom (Chazen, 2000) and Embracing Reason: Egalitarian Ideals and the Teaching of High School Mathematics (Chazen, Callis, & Lehman, 2008). A Quiet Revolution, in relation to the earlier books, continues their story and engages a willing reader, like the teacher quoted above, to reflect on their own context and experiences and investigate opportunities for making change through useful activities at the end of every chapter.

Overall, A Quiet Revolution provides a much-needed blend of theory, policy, and practice for those who want to effect change in mathematics classrooms. Chapter One offers an overview of Holt’s ambitious reforms, introducing a framework of stakeholders (e.g., mathematics departments, other teachers, administrators) who influence reform efforts. The authors also introduce a set of guiding principles (e.g., learning is socially constructed and situated) to set the stage for the upcoming recommendations. Chapter Two then positions the HHS reforms in the context of the larger changes in mathematics education at the local, state, and national level, including major educational events (e.g., NCTM standards, No Child Left Behind, Common Core State Standards).

Next, Chapter Three narrows its focus at the local level, highlighting the complex work of developing a common vision and collectively countering larger shifts in policy. In an effort by the authors to give voice  to those involved in the HHS reform efforts, Chapter Four provides excerpts from focus group interviews in which teachers discuss decision-making, staffing, failure, shared values and efforts, and advocacy. Chapter Five addresses the broad topic of student outcomes, reflecting on the impact of HHS decisions on both the quality and quantity of students’ mathematics learning. They end the chapter with important notes about assessments and offer a set of characteristics of quality assessments. Chapters Six and Seven invite the reader to consider why mathematics teaching is so resistant to change in spite of the evidence that traditional forms of mathematics teaching are not working for most students. They extend the individual reader reflections offered in earlier chapters with a comprehensive set of activities designed for groups of colleagues to investigate together.

In a book loaded with rich details about the HHS reform, the authors of A Quiet Revolution threaded multiple themes throughout the book. First, time and time again, Steele and Huhn reveal the complexity of the HHS reform work. They reflect on the challenges and opportunities in their context, but whenever possible extrapolate the nature of the HHS efforts to other settings, calling Holt “remarkably unremarkable.” In virtually every chapter, they reiterate the message presented in the first sentence of the first chapter: they do not “have all the answers.” They are telling their story, that of a single mathematics department, which has the potential to be useful to others interested in embarking on changing the nature of mathematics teaching and learning at their own schools.

They describe the messy and nonlinear nature of progress and the process of debriefing failures. Second, the authors emphasize that reform efforts in a mathematics department do not happen in isolation. They describe the nuances of local, state, and national contexts and the importance of, and strategies for, including all stakeholders (e.g., parents, administrators, students) in conversations in order to, as much as possible, keep everyone on the same page. Finally, in several places throughout the book, the authors compel and inspire readers to envision themselves as revolutionaries fighting against a system that fails to serve many students. They encourage teams of reformers to develop and work toward a shared vision and to make clear what, beyond test scores, would signal the success of their efforts. In their own words, they offer teachers a “set of honest, accessible starting places for you to instigate your own quiet revolution” (p. 2).

Steele and Huhn aim to “radicalize” the reader and inspire action toward substantial and effective reform in mathematics teaching and learning. We find their invitation both compelling and worthwhile; as teacher educators, curriculum designers, and previous high school teachers ourselves, we recognize the many tensions and potential rewards described in Holt’s journey. We appreciate how the authors explicitly connect research and practice and wonder about other companion efforts that can join A Quiet Revolution to inform and sustain reform. For example, A Quiet Revolution describes the impressive accomplishments of a department of like-minded, committed department members. But teachers may wonder what happens when a department is not in agreement; when, like the teacher in the opening quote, they are a single teacher or a small subset of teachers in a department that is not collectively committed to change? Although the authors acknowledge a period of time when the HHS mathematics department needed to overcome disagreements parallel to those in the Math Wars, A Quiet Revolution points to how other documentations of the trials and tribulations of mathematics departments may shed additional light on how to build consensus and develop a common vision. Thus, in addition to the quiet revolutions that may take place in schools as a result of this resource, the broader mathematics education community is made richer by its example.



Chazan, D. (2000).  Beyond formulas in mathematics and teaching: Dynamics of the high school algebra classroom. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Chazan, D., Callis, S., & Lehman, M. (2008). Embracing reason: Egalitarian ideals and the teaching of high school mathematics. New York, NY: Routledge.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: May 02, 2019
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22789, Date Accessed: 5/28/2022 7:40:51 PM

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About the Author
  • Leslie Dietiker
    Boston University
    E-mail Author
    LESLIE DIETIKER is an assistant professor of mathematics education at Boston Universityís Wheelock College of Education & Human Development. Her research examines the curricular work of teachers, particularly in regards to how teachers can plan and enact mathematics lessons that can spark studentsí curiosity in and passion for mathematics. She is an elected officer of the International Society of the Design and Development of Education, an international organization focused on design and research of curriculum in mathematics and science. She is also the lead author of several mathematics textbooks from grades 6-12 that focus on metacognitive development, conceptual development, and problem solving published by a non-profit called CPM Educational Program. She is a National Board Certified Teacher and taught mathematics in a public high school in San Francisco for 17 years.
  • Jill Newton
    Purdue University
    E-mail Author
    JILL NEWTON is an associate professor of mathematics education in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction at Purdue University, and was for 12 years a middle and high school mathematics teacher. Her research focuses on mathematics curriculum and secondary mathematics teacher education. She explores mathematics textbooks and curriculum, algebra and geometry teaching and learning in secondary mathematics, and the structure and content of current mathematics teacher education programs and ways to enhance those programs.
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