Algebra I is a gatekeeper to economic opportunity and a source of foundational reasoning skills that benefit young people throughout life. But for most of the 4.3m adolescents who take it each year, it is a dehumanizing experience that leaves them disengaged. Further, Algebra I success is highly unequal, with students of color, and boys from low-SES families, showing 3x the poor performance rates of their more advantaged peers. The result is over 1m young people per year who will be kept from earning a place in the future economy.
What’s standing in the way?
A better classroom culture in Algebra I could mitigate this problem. Unfortunately, high school teachers have been given practically no science-based guidance on how to create a supportive classroom culture. Further, teachers are bombarded with obligations, and rarely have the time to change their classroom practices.
There is no one, single “solve” for Algebra I classroom culture. Rather than searching for single solutions, we propose that a suite of teaching practices can be most effective at creating the right culture. To develop a scientific basis for this suite of practices, we are building a new R&D infrastructure that will allow researchers to evaluate 10-20 novel practices each year with working Algebra I teachers. This will be a dramatic improvement over the typical R&D pipeline, which tests solitary solutions in isolation, at the pace of 1 per 5 years. Thus, we expect a 50 to 100-fold acceleration in the pace of innovation.
A working prototype of this R&D infrastructure was developed in a panel of ~1,000 teachers in the 2020-2021 school year. We tested six ideas in parallel in Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 (12 ideas total) and made a breakthrough discovery: a short, web-based, 45-min intervention that changed teachers’ culture-creating practices and improved success rates for low-SES classrooms.
In the 2021-2022 school year, we combined the top-performing innovations into a comprehensive teacher fellowship, which was evaluated with an RCT in 20 school districts in Texas. We saw improvements in the classroom culture up to 6 months post-intervention. We also saw ~50% reductions in Algebra I teacher burnout and attrition from the profession.
We are now launching a state-wide research panel with a representative sample of 1,000 Texas Algebra I teachers. Teams of external researchers will be paired with Algebra I teacher co-developers and our institute’s proven design process will develop 10-20 novel research hypotheses to be tested on this panel. As the results appear and tools are created, we will scale the tools with our partner districts, reaching over 100,000 students in the first year alone.
- Overall improvement Algebra I learning rates of .2 SD or greater
- 50% reduction in racial and socioeconomic inequality in Algebra I success
- Increased attendance for lower-achieving students, saving districts millions
- Improved teacher retention and job satisfaction, by reducing teacher burnout, saving millions of dollars for school districts who need to hire and re-train their teachers
- 5-10 novel, research-tested interventions with the highest level of evidence attainable
- Scientific basis for a change in the cultural conversation about teachers and students.