Microsoft Partners With Local School Districts to Improve Math Education

REDMOND, Wash. — Nov. 1, 2006 — Microsoft Corp. today launched the Microsoft® Math Partnership, a public-private initiative to enable educators and encourage Washington state businesses and state government to focus new attention and resources on improving middle- school math education. Brad Smith, Microsoft’s senior vice president and co-chair of the Prosperity Partnership, announced the initiative during his keynote speech at the Prosperity Partnership Fall Luncheon in Seattle.

Smith noted the following:

  • Barely half of Washington’s 10th graders passed the latest WASL math exam. A passing score on the WASL examine becomes a requirement for high-school graduation in 2008.1

  • Forty-seven percent of high-impact job openings that require a bachelor’s degree require high proficiency in math.2

  • Fewer than 20 percent of the students receiving a bachelor’s degree in Washington each year, however, get their degrees in one of these high-demand fields.2

  • Only 53 percent of Washington state secondary teachers teach the subject they majored in.3

Math Is at the Center of Global Competitiveness

Despite an increased insistence on critical thinking, technology and competitiveness in today’s global economy, the United States, and especially the state of Washington, lags behind the rest of the world in preparing the future work force with math fundamentals.

Consequently, businesses in Washington must recruit people from out of state with bachelor’s and advanced degrees to fill the jobs created by the growing economy. This leaves Washington’s economic future partly in the hands of decision-makers in other states and regions across the country and around the world.

“Clearly it is time for us to invest even more in our math teachers so they can invest even more in our students,” Smith said. “It starts at the middle-school level so that the students are interested in and prepared for the math that’s needed in high school and college. And then it means filling the pipeline by finding the space for these motivated students in our colleges and universities.”

“We must invest in Washington students if we want our state to remain globally competitive,” said Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire. “Microsoft understands the business sense behind this investment and knows that there are significant reasons for private businesses to partner with our public institutions.”

“Our state is a major force in the international economy,” said Terry Bergeson, state superintendent of Public Instruction for Washington. “Mathematics is essential to the jobs that drive that economy. And it is also essential to successfully managing our daily, complex lives. The world has changed. It is time to face facts: Mathematics is for everyone.”

The key finding in research conducted by the American Institutes for Research is that algebra is the “gatekeeper” for student access to the upper-level high-school courses in mathematics that drive high-school graduation, college readiness and college completion. Students who pass algebra by the ninth grade and geometry by the 10th grade more than triple their odds of attending college.

“We feel so strongly about the importance of higher math at the middle-school level that we are investing our resources to help make some solid, measurable strides to help our teachers improve our students,” Smith said.

A Strategy for Turning Around Math Education

Microsoft’s strategy calls for initially supporting eight Puget Sound-area school districts in producing significant improvement in the teacher preparation, academic rigor and awareness about the importance of math education in middle schools.

Among the components of the program announced by Smith are these:

  • Professional development workshops for teachers and education leaders for select Puget Sound-area school districts will help fast-track implementation of proven practices.

  • A best-practices guide collating the successful work of school districts around the country will create a field guide to advance middle-school math. The effort will be grounded in research and experience from leading school districts.

  • Classroom tools. Microsoft’s MS Math product will be distributed to all sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade math and science classrooms in the state.

  • Awareness campaign. Research shows that most people are not aware of the “math gap” among developed countries. The education and business communities agree that a public-awareness campaign will help expose the crisis and underscore why rigorous math is important for all students.

  • Advocate legislative solutions. Academic standards and funding will remain top priorities in Microsoft’s advocacy efforts in Olympia.

At the Prosperity Partnership Fall Lunch, Smith committed $6 million over three years from Microsoft to help fund this effort. Proficiency in algebra is the core performance metric of the program, while the central goal is student participation and achievement in math.

Partnering With Public Education

The company is launching this partnership after commissioning a white paper titled “The Gateway to Student Success in Mathematics and Science.” The findings in that study, completed by American Institutes for Research, were shared with Puget Sound-area school district superintendents earlier this year, and drove the development of the Math Partnership.

Initially, the company has partnered with the Puget Sound Education Service District and these eight school districts:

  • Seattle Public Schools – 9,047 middle-school students (grades 6-8)

  • Highline Public Schools – 2,714 middle-school students

  • Kent School District – 5,763 seventh- and eighth-graders

  • Renton School District – 3,011 seventh- and eighth-graders

  • Lake Washington School District – 5,084 students in grades 7–9

  • Issaquah School District – 3,669 students in grades 7–9

  • Bellevue School District – 3,437 students in grades 7–9

  • Northshore School District – 4,791 students in grades 7–9

“The three most important strategies for turning around our state’s trends in mathematics and science education are included in Microsoft’s Math Partnership: public awareness of the importance of math and science in everyday life, public advocacy for change, and considerable investments in supporting teaching quality,” said Dr. Mary Alice Heuschel, superintendent of the Renton School District.

“We welcome the partnership with Microsoft, and are thankful its commitment to our schools is shared by many other local businesses,” said Monte Bridges, superintendent of the Puget Sound Educational Service District. “Preparing our students for tomorrow’s challenges is a huge job, and community support for our educators in doing that job is the very powerful message that a partnership like this sends.”

Other local businesses, such as Battelle, Boeing Co. and Washington Mutual, are also focusing attention on the middle-school math and science issue. The primary activities of the Math Partnership will be coordinated by the Puget Sound Educational Service District, in cooperation with the selected school districts. The statewide activities, including the distribution of MS Math, will be coordinated by the state’s Office of Public Instruction. Microsoft is also working with the University of Washington College of Education to evaluate and provide professional development to the project.

About the Prosperity Partnership

The Prosperity Partnership is a coalition of over 200 government, business, labor and community organizations dedicated to developing and implementing a common economic strategy in the Puget Sound area.

About Microsoft

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.

1- http://www.k12.wa.us/Communications/pressreleases2006/WASLScoreRelease2006.aspx

2- http://www.prosperitypartnership.org/foundation/educ/hewgslideshow.pdf; Employment Security Department, “Annual Long Term Occupational Projections,” June 2005

3- http://www.edweek.org/ew/qc/2006/state_data.html?state=WA&opt=data#quality

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