K-12 Momentum: January 2024

The power of the equal sign
Students playing instruments

Dear Colleagues,

I think a lot about taking risks at the beginning of every new year. I’m not exactly sure why. Perhaps it’s the fact that with a bit of rest and perspective, I’m inspired to be bolder in pursuing goals in a new year.

Whatever the reason, this year I have an additional reason to think about risk in relation to our math strategy. In a recent call with grantees, folks I deeply respect, they expressed concern about communicating to the foundation about a business risk they took that did not work out. They had spent roughly a third of the funds, but were returning two thirds of a multi-million dollar grant. They were nervous about the conversation, but nevertheless walked us through their thinking, including their decision to change course and return funds. It was a great call and the right decision.

No one likes to fail. But on the K-12 team, we want our colleagues and our partners to take business risks and think boldly about what can improve education. For example, as many Network for School Improvement grantees have shown, we need to constantly challenge the status quo with small tests of change that add up, otherwise we will never improve. And failure is part of that process. We cannot succeed if we don’t dare to be bold, break habits and try new ideas, and lean into our ambitions for all students. That’s why the foundation evaluates with such rigor - to make sure the field learns from what we’ve done in the past and doesn’t repeat what did not work.

Of course, we all need to be responsible about risk, especially in education. This requires us to be transparent about our strategies and rely on the expertise of the voices closest to students and classrooms. Yet innovation is everywhere; good teachers and school leaders take risks and innovate every day. Teachers may adapt a lesson based on their experiences from an earlier class or from a conversation with a peer teacher. They are careful and conscientious, but they know success can only come with thoughtful testing and iteration. Not everything works well the first time. Not every new idea is bound to be the ultimate solution. But if we are transparent and learn from risk and from each other, then we’re growing – not failing. We need more of that in schools and districts.

With fellow teachers, parents and students, dream boldly in 2024. Like innovative teachers, please responsibly test out responsible ideas and tell us about it, trusted partners. We love good news, but we can handle the bad news too and honor failure. We only learn with transparency and our journey together demands it.

In Partnership,

Bob Hughes
Director, K-12 Education

Quick takes

PISA Results Emphasize the Need to Improve Math Education

In December, the results of key international rankings of student performance showed how much is at stake. The math performance of students in the United States declined to the lowest scores in 20 years. This report adds to the growing list of data showing how critical it is to address and transform math learning in this country. Read more from the foundation about how to approach that work here and find more resources from our partners at the Collaborative for Student Success here.


New Report Helps Make Sense of Student Math Learning

“Improve math education so that it is relevant and enticing to students in the future of math!” In their newly released report, Making Sense of Learning Math Insights from the Student Experience, Youth Truth shares the perspectives and insights about students in math, reflecting 90,000 high school students from 62 districts in 14 states. Explore their findings here.


“Math You Can Grab, Run and Feel”

The Young People’s Project helps make math move for kids. With near-peer tutors and physical challenges, the math classroom comes to life. It’s something you have to see for yourself that is captured in this new video. As one of the projects in our Algebra 1 Grand Challenge, the students in this Cambridge, MA classroom not only improved their math outcomes, they won big. Check it out here.

What we're reading

Ed Week: How math instruction changed in 2023

Op-Ed in the 74: What teacher preparation programs can learn from minority-serving institutions

This is more about what we're watching

These videos from ATTN helping parents feel seen in their child’s math experience (number sense and tape models).