The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today will announce a $1.3-million grant to Los Angeles schools to improve the teaching of algebra and other college-prep courses.
The investment is modest compared to other Gates grants and even other school district initiatives, but marks a growing partnership between the nation's second-largest school system and perhaps the world's largest private philanthropic fund.
The one-year grant will pay for teacher training and curriculum design. The hope is to build on documented achievement gains at the elementary level. Progress has been sluggish at middle schools and high schools in Los Angeles and nationwide.
The school system's experience with Algebra 1 symbolizes both the aspirations and limitations of local reforms. Los Angeles Unified School District officials initially trumpeted their strategy to put nearly all students into algebra courses in the eighth grade. But as many as 45% of students failed the class, pushing some students, in effect, more toward the dropout track than the college track.
But as of summer, the plan changed.
The entire curriculum is getting a makeover to create a more effective algebra course and to better prepare students before they get there. Now a third of eighth-graders will take an algebra-readiness class.
"We know that we've got to go back into our preparation for algebra and help students develop a conceptual understanding of math in a deeper way," said L.A. Unified Supt. Roy Romer.
Another goal is to develop consistency "so all schools have coherent curriculum, training that matches the curriculum and curriculum that matches the standards," said Steven Seleznow, education program director for the Gates Foundation. From the start, high schools have been a focus for the Seattle-based Gates Foundation, which has invested some $120 million in the New York area and about $50 million in Chicago. This compares to about $30 million in Los Angeles.