Math Gates

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The Gates Foundation Is Shifting Its Focus on Math
Educators who are looking for some help in getting their students to master their math skills may find themselves on the right track with the Gates Foundation's new approach to teaching. After investing hundreds of millions in supporting the Common Core standards, Gates is now focusing on math in a different way: Rather than requiring schools to adhere to certain national goals for education, the foundation will provide grants to improve teachers' math preparation and make grants to curriculum companies and nonprofits to create better materials.

A key component of this shift is a focus on equity in math instruction, aimed at ensuring that race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status don't play any role in a student's educational success or economic mobility. That's part of what prompted the foundation to change its approach, according to Robert Hughes, director of the Gates Foundation's K-12 program in the U.S.

This new approach is built on conversations with educators, school administrators, and curriculum experts that began two years ago, he said. The discussions helped shape the foundation's approach, which now aims to build networks of schools that can test new teaching and coursework innovations.

It will fund groups that work to develop better high-school math courses and research into what's working in math instruction. It also will support teachers who want to get better at the subject, and will help them with professional development.

The foundation's new approach also focuses on improving the quality of teaching materials and promoting a more student-centered, collaborative learning environment. It will also invest in technology, particularly the use of computers and mobile devices, he said.

In addition, the foundation will give more attention to low-income and Black students, a demographic that has long been underserved in math instruction. That will help it achieve its goal of ensuring that "race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status no longer predict a person's educational outcome or economic mobility."

Another element of the foundation's new approach is to give more attention to the skills that students need in order to succeed at higher levels, including the ability to calculate, compare and interpret data. It is also focusing on math proficiency, which includes a deeper understanding of number concepts and place value.

The Gates Foundation, which has poured about 40 percent of its total K-12 education budget into improving math in the past, will now devote about $1.1 billion over the next four years to this goal. The money will come largely from shifting dollars out of other foundation grantmaking projects and will be directed to the states of California, Florida, New York and Texas.

It will target grants in those states because they have large populations of low-income children, as well as a high proportion of Black and Latino students. It will also focus on educating students from these backgrounds, because those are the groups that have the most difficulty in gaining the knowledge and skills they need to succeed at school and in their careers.