Robert P. Moses

Ashoka Fellow
Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
Fellow Since 2008


This profile was prepared when Robert P. Moses was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
The New Idea
For the past four decades, Moses has worked to mold the United States into a nation of equal opportunity. He played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement, ensuring that all citizens, regardless of race, have the power to exercise their constitutional rights. Recognizing that his work was far from over, Moses seized on the idea of math literacy as one route to leveling the socioeconomic playing field for minorities. In the new tech-based economy, math literacy is an essential component of college admissions and most jobs, as well as full citizenship. Without it, minorities are excluded not only from many upwardly mobile professions, but from the basic substance of citizenship. Moses realized that helping middle school students acquire basic algebra skills would allow them to get into honors and advanced math courses in high school, and thus put them on a path to success in college and beyond. He developed the Algebra Project, a math curriculum and model that reached 10,000 middle school students and 300 teachers per year across twenty-eight cities in the 1990s.

This effort was greatly diminished by No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the emphasis on teaching to and preparing for state tests. Rebounding from NCLB the Algebra Project and its offshoot, The Young People’s Project (YPP), began a coordinated strategy at Lanier High School in Jackson, Mississippi in 2002. They asked students in the bottom quartile at Lanier to double up on their math for their four high school years and take aim at the country’s three gate-keeper examinations: State subject matter tests, the ACT and/or the SAT, and university readiness tests for college math. After school, on weekends and during the summer, they asked this “cohort” of students to participate in YPP programs as well as summer institutes run by them and participating universities. A small network of university mathematicians rolled up their sleeves, rolled out their thoughts and helped secure funding from the National Science Foundation to develop instructional materials for two such “cohorts,” one at Lanier and the other at Edison High School in Miami: Students from the “bottom” willing to accelerate rather than remediate their way through high school mathematics. In Miami, with guidance from the Center for Urban Education and Innovation of Florida International University (FIU) and funding from the Children’s Trust, the Project together with YPP created a six-week residential summer immersion course at FIU for the Edison cohort of students. The summer institute embeds math in a larger context designed to enable students to see education as a means of upward mobility—teaching them to take responsibility for their learning and advocate for better schools.

The Algebra Project and YPP are now working to initiate a national conversation on a Quality Public School Education as a Constitutional Right. Starting with the pilot program at Lanier High School, they are building cohorts of minority students who are proactively taking control of their education—and demanding their right to learn. In effect, they are building a tide of demand for better schools from young people who will change the U.S. Constitutional foundations for public school education in the same way that the civil rights movement changed it for the right to the vote.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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