Streams

Federal Dollars Pledged to Math and Science Programs

Friday, November 11, 2011 - 04:42 PM

Three New York City groups are among 23 school districts and education organizations that have been singled out by the United States Department of Education to receive millions in grants this year, provided they can match a percentage of the award with private money.

New Visions for Public Schools, a nonprofit group that has helped start dozens of city schools in recent years, could receive $12.9 million over five years to bring a new algebra program to 30 city high schools. And New York City's Department of Education and the New York Hall of Science in Queens each stand to win $3 million for technology projects that are in the experimental phase, meaning the federal governments believes they hold promise, but they are untested.

In total, 587 school districts and organizations nationally submitted applications for grants this year and winners will share $150 million. In 2010, about 1,700 groups applied to share $650 million. They have four weeks to come up with enough private financing to partly match the grants.

The awards to the New York city programs all promote math and science education.

The federal Education Department rates applications in three categories, and New Visions' proposal, called "Assessing Algebra Through Inquiry," falls into the second-tier of the awards, which go to projects with some track record of success. To receive the money, the group must now match 10 percent of the government's grant in private money.

"We are confident that we'll be able to get it," said Tim Farrell, a spokesman for New Visions. The organization is so certain that it plans to began using the new algebra program in 10 schools this winter.

Over the next five years — the duration of the grant — the program will be expanded to 30 schools in total, all of them high need secondary schools that New Visions is already working in.

The aim, Mr. Farrell said, is to change the way these high schools teach algebra and geometry by aligning their lessons with the new Common Core curriculum standards. As part of the program, teachers will incorporate tests into their lessons that do not have any bearing on students' grades, but are used to see how well students understand the material.

Teachers will write comments and questions on the tests and hand them back to students, who will then retake the assessments and hopefully reach the right answer to questions they got wrong before.

"It’s not only to improve the student outcomes, but also to really push teachers to think differently about the way they teach math class," Mr. Farrell said.

New Visions' proposal is an expansion of work it is already doing on the Common Core literacy and math standards with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The city's proposal, described in the impenetrable education jargon common in federal grant applications, intends to improve science and math education in grades 5 to 12 through its InnovateNYC program, which oversees various education technology programs.

The city's grant proposal suggests that often new technology and schools' needs are out of sync, and that it will use the money to help align them. Working with various partners, the department will solicit ideas from developers, evaluate those proposals, and commit to purchasing the programs it believes will be successful.

"There is so much potential for technology as a tool that helps students get on track for college and careers — but right now, engineers and developers need a better understanding of the challenges facing New York City and other urban school districts," Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott said in a statement. To receive the grant, the city must match 15 percent of it through private sources.

The New York Hall of Science also proposes to work on science and math education, but only for eighth graders, and with a focus on increasing the participation of minority students in science education. It has proposed to create an "informal game" called Scigames, that "turns students' playground play into a game."

During the first two years of its five-year grant, the organization will test three physics games with 2,000 New York City students and their 30 teachers. Later, it will study the games' effect on 6,000 students.

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