The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently announced that it is making grants of more than $1 billion as part of a sweeping national plan to improve math education over the next four years.
Its goal: to help students succeed in school and land well-paying jobs when they graduate, given research that shows the connection between strong math skills and career success.
The foundation said that to put more money into math, it will cut grants to other subjects like reading, writing, and the arts.
The new plan is the second major shift in education funding Gates has made in recent years.
After spending hundreds of millions of dollars to promote common-core standards, a set of national educational goals for students at each grade level, the foundation in 2018 backtracked. Acknowledging criticism that the approach didn’t allow individual schools flexibility; Gates developed a new plan that created networks of schools facing similar challenges. Educators in each of those networks could test teaching and coursework innovations and make adaptations as they saw fit, rather than adhere to a set of nationwide standards.
In 2020, Gates held a more than $10 million competition to identify new approaches to teaching algebra. Those grants, and discussions Gates staff held over the past two years with teachers, parents, school administrators, curriculum experts, and others, helped formulate the foundation’s new approach.
Gates will provide grants to prepare teachers better for teaching math and to curriculum companies and nonprofits to develop higher-quality teaching materials. The foundation will also support research into math education and make grants to help high-school math courses prepare students for college and the workplace.
Gates has committed to the approach for the next decade but has only made final spending plans for the next four years, when it will plow $1.1 billion into math. That’s the same amount it spent on its entire elementary and secondary education program for the past four years, during which only 40% was devoted to improving math instruction.
Initially the foundation will direct grants to assist students in California, Florida, New York, and Texas. The states were picked, Hughes said, because Gates has experience working with school districts in those states and because of their large share of the nation’s Black and Latino students.
As Gates “hunkers down” on math, it will end its support for language arts, such as reading and writing, Hughes said. The change in approach probably means the end of support, once current grants run their scheduled course, for many education nonprofits.
Gates Foundation officials are in touch with several foundations that might be willing to pick up some of the slack, Hughes said, citing ongoing discussions with the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies. (Featured earlier on our website.)