Gates Foundation donates $1 billion to prioritize math education – Chicago Tribune

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced Wednesday that it is awarding more than $1 billion in grants as part of a sweeping national plan to improve math education over the next four years. Her goal: to help students succeed in school and land well-paying jobs when they graduate, given research that shows the link between strong math skills and career success.

The foundation, which has long been controversial over its education work, said that to put more money into maths, it would cut grants to other subjects like reading, writing and the arts.

The heightened focus on math comes after the pandemic ‘wreaked havoc’ on learning in secondary schools and widened racial gaps in student performance, math scores among black students falling more sharply than declines among white students, according to Bob Hughes, director of the Gates Foundation’s Elementary and Education Grants Program.

The foundation made the switch because it believes that better math education in the early grades is key to helping students succeed in school and beyond. Students who pass an introductory algebra course in grade 9 are twice as likely to graduate from high school and go on to college, Hughes said.

The problem, he says, is that for many students, math is not presented as a crucial and engaging subject.

“Too many students don’t have access to math education in the classroom where they receive essential resources to help them see the joy of learning math and believe they can become mathematicians by getting older,” he said.

The new plan is the second major education funding change Gates has made in recent years.

After spending hundreds of millions of dollars promoting the Common Core Standards, a set of national educational goals for students at every grade level, the foundation backtracked in 2018. Acknowledging criticism that the approach doesn’t did not allow for the flexibility of individual schools, Gates developed a new plan that created networks of schools facing similar challenges. Educators in each of these networks could test teaching and course innovations and make whatever adaptations they deemed appropriate, rather than adhering to a set of national standards.

In 2020, Gates hosted a $10 million+ competition to identify new approaches to teaching algebra. These grants and the discussions Gates staff have had over the past two years with teachers, parents, school administrators, curriculum experts and others have helped shape the new approach to the foundation.

Gates will provide grants to better prepare teachers for teaching math and to curriculum companies and nonprofits to develop better teaching materials. The foundation will also support research on math education and provide grants to help high school math classes prepare students for college and the world of work.

A big problem with math as it’s taught today is that students learn in isolation and can feel overwhelmed when they get the answer to a problem wrong, says Shalini Sharma, co-founder of nonprofit Zearn. educational lucrative and beneficiary of Gates who, along with Hughes, spoke to reporters this week. Zearn uses computer-based lessons that incorporate lots of visuals to keep students interested and provides progress feedback to help teachers tailor lessons to each student. A new approach in which students work in teams to solve problems, she said, can turn all students into “math kids.”

“When all kids are ‘math kids,’ it’s okay to make mistakes,” she said. “It won’t be awkward. In fact, making mistakes will be seen as normal and an essential part of learning math.

Gates committed to the approach for the next decade, but only made definitive spending plans for the next four years, when he will inject $1.1 billion into math. That’s the same amount he’s spent on his entire primary and secondary education program for the past four years, of which just 40% has been spent on improving math education. .

Initially, the foundation will provide grants to help students in California, Florida, New York, and Texas. The states were chosen, Hughes said, because Gates has experience working with school districts in those states and because of their large proportion of black and Latino students nationwide.

As Gates “leans” to math, he will end his support for language arts, such as reading and writing, Hughes said. The change in approach likely means the end of support, once current grants run their intended course, for many nonprofits in the education sector.

Gates Foundation officials are in contact with several foundations that may be willing to take on some of the slack, Hughes said, citing ongoing discussions with the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies.

In recent years, many large US foundations have channeled funds to improve civic education, said Amber Northern, senior vice president for research at the Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank, citing the Carnegie Corporation. and the Hewlett Foundation as prominent examples. But, she says, there are relatively few foundations that devote significant sums to improving math education.

“A lot of foundations want to come together and leverage their impact by joining with other foundations,” she said. “This is an outreach call for other foundations to join us.”

The Gates shift isn’t the first time American education experts have voiced the need to focus on math. In the late 1950s, after the launch of Sputnik, educators called for a new vigor in math education to keep up with the country’s Soviet adversaries during the Cold War, said Natalie Wexler, author of “The Knowledge Gap : The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken”. Education system – and how to fix it.

Although math is important, Wexler said, only a small percentage of students use math in their daily lives. But every student is a member of society and needs other skills to become a positive contributor to society. For a democracy to work, she said, people need basic literacy, the ability to read newspaper articles critically and knowledge of how public policy is made. elaborated.

Mathematics education is important, she said, but “the knowledge needed to understand a newspaper and keep up with the news will be much more crucial to enabling these students to fulfill their responsibilities as citizens.” .

Hughes said other skills are important, but the foundation felt it could have the biggest impact by focusing on math. If taught correctly, he said, math lessons can connect students to real problems that need solving and keep them engaged as students, and eventually citizens.

“When kids start to feel alienated in middle school, it’s often the math class that alienates them,” he said.

This article was provided to The Associated Press by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Alex Daniels is a senior reporter at the Chronicle. The AP and the Chronicle are supported by the Lilly Endowment for coverage of philanthropy and nonprofit organizations. The AP and the Chronicle are solely responsible for all content.

Comments are closed.