The Algebra Project is a national U.S. mathematics literacy effort aimed at helping low-income students and students of color successfully achieve mathematical skills that are a prerequisite for a college preparatory mathematics sequence in high school. The Project's mission states,"The Algebra Project, Inc. is a 501 (c) (3) national, nonprofit organization that uses mathematics as an organizing tool to ensure quality public school education for every child in America. We believe that every child has a right to a quality education to succeed in this technology-based society and to exercise full citizenship. We achieve this by using best educational research and practices, and building coalitions to create systemic changes." ("Algebra Project") Founded by Civil Rights activist and Math educator Robert Parris Moses in the 1980s, the Algebra Project has developed curricular materials, trained teachers and teacher-trainers, and provided ongoing professional development support and community involvement activities to schools seeking to achieve a systemic change in mathematics education.
The Algebra Project reaches approximately 10,000 students and approximately 300 teachers per year in 28 local sites across 10 states.
The Algebra Project focuses on the Southern U.S., where the Southern Initiative of the Algebra Project is directed by David J. Dennis, Sr., and on the Young Peoples' Project (YPP), which recruits, trains and deploys high school and college age "Math Literacy Workers" to work with their younger peers in a variety of math learning opportunities and engage "the demand side" of mathematics education reform. The YPP is directed by Omowale Moses.
Increased student performance in mathematics, as well as greater numbers of students enrolling in college preparatory mathematics classes, is a well documented outcome of the project's work.
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The Algebra Project was born out of one parent's concern with the mathematics education of his children in the public schools of Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1982, Bob Moses (who had been providing additional math instruction to his daughter) joined Mary Lou Mehrling, his daughter's eighth grade teacher, to help several students with the study of algebra. Moses, who had taught secondary school mathematics in New York City and Tanzania, decided that an appropriate goal for those students was to have enough skills in algebra to qualify for honors math and science courses in high school. His success in producing the first students from the Open Program of the Martin Luther King School who passed the city-wide algebra examination and qualified for ninth grade honors geometry was a testament to his skill as a teacher. It also highlighted a serious problem: Most students in the Open Program were expected not to do well in mathematics.
Moses approached the problem at the Open Program in a similar manner to problems he and others had faced in the early sixties in helping the black community of Mississippi seek political power through the vote. While on the surface the problem of the acquisition of political power looked like a simple issue of enticing people to vote, the problem would involve answering an interrelated set of questions. "What is the vote for?" "Why do we want it in the first place?" What must we do right now to ensure that when we have the vote, it will work for us to benefit our communities? Answers to these questions eventually resulted in an important context in which to ask people to vote. This context was the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, a community based political party.
Similarly, the everyday issues of students failing at mathematics in the Open Program would require a more complex set of issues and community of individuals. Moses, the parent-as-organizer in the program, instinctively applied the lesson he had learned in Mississippi, transforming the everyday issues into a broader political question for the Open Program community to consider: What is algebra for? Why do we want children to study it? What do we need to include in the mathematics education of every middle school student, to provide each of them with access to the college preparatory mathematics curriculum in high school? Why is it important to gain such access? Within these questions, a context for understanding the problems of mathematics education emerged, and a possible solution and effort at community organizing represented by the Algebra Project began to take shape.
The answers to the questions, "What is algebra for?" and "Why do we want children to study it?", play an important role in the Algebra Project. The project assumes that there is a new standard in assessing mathematics education, a standard of mathematical literacy. In this not so far future, a broad range of mathematical skills will join traditional skills in reading and writing in the definition of literacy. These mathematical skills will not only be important in gaining access to college and math and science related careers, but will also be necessary for full participation in the economic life of this society. In this context, the Algebra Project has as a goal that schools embrace a standard of mathematics education that requires that children be mathematically literate. This will require a community of educators including parents, teachers and school administrators who understand the paramount importance of mathematics education in providing access to the economic life of this society. An answer to the question "What do we need to include in the mathematics education of every middle school student?" also frames the Algebra Project.
From March 1, 2006 to March 4, 2006, Baltimore City Public School System students led by the Baltimore City Algebra Project and coming from high schools across Baltimore City held a three-day student strike to oppose an imminent plan to "consolidate" many area high schools into fewer buildings. The school system claims these buildings are underutilized, but the students and other advocates counter that the only reason there is extra space in these buildings is because class sizes often are about 40 students per class. Mayor O'Malley apparently gave an ear to the students' demands in this latest round of strike actions, fearing it could affect his status with the general public in a gubernatorial election year.
The Young People's Project
Founded in 1996, the Young People’s Project (YPP) is an outgrowth of the Algebra Project. YPP has established sites in Jackson, MS, Chicago, IL, and the Greater Boston area of Massachusetts, and is developing programs in Miami, FL, Petersburg, VA, Los Angeles, CA, Ann Arbor, MI, and Mansfield, OH. Through Math Literacy Worker trainings and development, workshops and community events, YPP promotes math literacy as a tool for young people to demand of themselves, their communities and school systems, an education commensurate with the requirements for citizenship in today’s technology based economy.
Each established site employs from 30 to 100 high school and college age students on a part-time basis, and serves up to 1000 elementary and middle school students through a variety of on and off site programs. As the founding members of YPP have moved from middle to high school to college, their development and the subsequent development of the young people they’ve attracted, has formed the basis for YPP’s evolution into a truly youth-driven organization.
In 2005, the Algebra Project initiated Quality Education as a Civil Right (QECR), a groundbreaking national organizing effort to establish a federal constitutional guarantee to quality public education for all. Throughout 2005, YPP worked with students from Baltimore, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Oakland, Miami, Jackson, Chicago and Virginia to initiate a dialogue within America about QECR. The Algebra Project and YPP students from Jackson and New Orleans hosted conferences, organized an innovative Spring Break Community Education Tour to Miami and participated in QECR planning meetings at Howard University, the University of Michigan, and Jackson State University.
- Dubinsky, Ed; Robert Moses (March 2011). "Philosophy, Math Research, Math Ed Research, K–16 Education, and the Civil Rights Movement: A Synthesis" (PDF). Notices of the AMS 58 (3).
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