algebraic equation

Gates’ New Grand Challenge Wants to Change Algebra I from a Gatekeeper to a Gateway

Yesterday, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced it will be making substantial grants to educators with groundbreaking strategies to make Algebra I more relevant to and equitable for young people who have been historically locked out of higher mathematics–meaning Black and Brown young people, especially those in poverty.

Honestly, even more advantaged students can be derailed by a poor experience in Algebra I. I myself was one of those students. As a second-grader, I aspired to be a mathematician. In the first half of eighth grade, I started Algebra I and was energized and eager to learn, thanks to a very engaging teacher, who also happened to be a Black woman. Unfortunately, I switched schools and teachers in the second half of the year and my new teacher was much less engaging and harder to understand. My grades dropped from As to Cs and my whole view of myself as “good at math” was destroyed, never to be recovered.

The pandemic exacerbates the longstanding challenges with Algebra I. When students are struggling to stay engaged in learning overall, sticking with a course many find confusing or boring becomes even harder.

But there are Chicago Public Schools who have made incredible strides in mathematics. The one I personally know best and have written about previously is Chavez Elementary in Back of the Yards, where personalized learning has allowed many middle school students to successfully complete Algebra I and even encouraged some eighth graders to complete high school geometry–a level of acceleration usually seen only in affluent suburbs.

I hope some of Chicago’s leaders in creating engaging mathematics will share their solutions and apply for the challenge. Learn more and apply to win up to $1.5 million to take your great ideas to a larger scale.

Photo by Antoine Dautry on Unsplash.

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Maureen Kelleher

Maureen Kelleher

Chicago Unheard blog manager Maureen Kelleher also serves as a senior writer and editor at brightbeam, a nonprofit network of education activists demanding a better education and brighter future for every child. Before joining the brightbeam team, she spent a decade as a reporter, blogger and policy analyst. Her work has been published across the education world, from Education Week to the Center for American Progress. Between 1998 and 2006 she was an associate editor at Catalyst Chicago, the go-to magazine covering Chicago’s public schools. There, her reporting won awards from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the International Reading Association and the Society for Professional Journalists. A former high school English teacher, she is also the proud mom of an elementary student in the Chicago Public Schools. Find her on Twitter at @KelleherMaureen.

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