K-12 Momentum: May 2023

Young boy in glasses smiles shyly while playing a math game with his teacher, classmate

Dear friends —

I relish working in a global foundation. Once a year, Gates employees from around the world gather to chat, compare notes and learn about common problems in different contexts. This year in particular reminded me that no problem is limited by geography. And like health and economic issues, learning math is no exception.

My colleagues describe how teachers from India to sub-Saharan Africa are working to get more students proficient in early math skills necessary to advance in a variety of skills, including STEM. Millions of young students are denied access to quality mathematics education due to socioeconomic factors, gender and racial bias. Countries are attempting to address these issues by implementing inclusive policies, providing resources to students in underprivileged areas and explicitly leveraging technology to expand opportunities. Sound familiar?

Girindre Beeharry, a beloved colleague who led the foundation’s global education efforts until his untimely death a couple of years ago, described this challenge eloquently in a 2021 essay. Girin argued that to make real progress, we need to prioritize a few goals — in particular foundational literacy and numeracy — monitor progress to meet them, and hold ourselves collectively accountable for achieving results. His essay is here.

At first blush, it may seem daunting to recognize that challenges in math instruction are global. But therein lies opportunity — bright spots, lessons learned and inspiring strategies and programs exist beyond our borders. By understanding the factors that shape success in different contexts in Asia, Africa or Europe, or, for that matter, Baltimore, Chicago and Los Angeles, we gain insight into our own local challenges.

We accelerate learning when we learn in community with one another. And there is a global consensus that we will only succeed at math by rigorously putting children’s needs first — wherever they live, regardless of their race, language, or the traditions they keep. Nothing less will suffice. As my international colleagues again reminded me — we’re in this together.


Bob Hughes

Bob Hughes
Director, K-12 Education

Quick Takes


Earlier this month, we were excited to see the launch of TeachAI — education, nonprofit, and technology leaders committed to safely and equitably integrating AI into education worldwide. Check out TeachAI.org to learn more.

Special edition: Ed Week on math

This month, Education Week launched a special report on math, featuring a series of articles on elementary math instruction. The reporting included recent findings from a nationally representative survey of about 300 math teachers, across grade levels in K-12. Check out the special report here!

New survey finds teachers lack effective instructional materials

Educators for Excellence’s latest Voices from the Classroom 2023 survey found that educators do not think their curricular materials are high-quality. As a result, 84% of teachers sometimes or often download or create their own resources, leading to less rigorous instruction. Check out the other findings in their report here.

What We're Reading

Leading for action: an insight report on K-12 tutoring programs from the Center for Education Market Dynamics

The US can no longer laugh off the ‘bad at math’ mentality from Jim Cowen at the Collaborative for Student Success

Parents don’t understand how far behind their kids are in school

Case studies: 6 principles for using student-powered improvement in your school – The 74 (the74million.org)