Updated on 1/27
When Bob Moses brought his Algebra Project to Baltimore in 1990, he could hardly have imagined the impact his mathematics curriculum would have on the city’s youth two decades later.
Convinced that inner-city kids should be prepared for honors-level high school math, Moses – a leader of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee – founded the Algebra Project, which uses mathematics as an organizing tool to ensure quality public school education.
In Baltimore, the group’s students established a safe source of income to maintain the program and to keep them off the streets during high school by creating a tutoring program in 2001, raising funds to pay older students to teach younger ones.
When their state funding was threatened, the students formed an Advocacy Committee, researched the issues behind the cuts, and, unconvinced of the necessity of the budget axe, met with community and faith leaders to successfully stop the cuts. Today, the Baltimore Algebra Project operates on a $500,000 budget from public and private sources, and is entirely run by young people under the age of 23.
Baltimore’s ninety thousand public school students are notoriously behind their peers in Maryland and the country. Many of the classes are too large for teachers to meet the needs of their pupils. Facilities, some dating to the 19th century, are in desperate need of repair, and many schools lack adequate heating and cooling. According to a recent ACLU report, almost $3 billion is required for necessary repairs.
While researching the school system’s budget woes in 2004, Algebra Project students learned about a long standing battle between the Baltimore Public School System, the City, and the State over school funding. A series of lawsuits alleged the State had been underfunding the City schools for a decade, and a court had ordered the State to pay $1.1 billion to the City, but the State never complied.
The Algebra Project has been agitating for the $1.1 billion for the last seven years. They engage in civil disobedience, leading well-organized marches that block traffic, student strikes and walk-outs, and creative street theatre to drive home their message: "No education, no life." Invest in education today, or condemn the next generation of kids.
Maryland Shaw, 22, first became active in the Algebra Project in middle school. When she went to college, she realized how far behind she was. “A lack of resources made it hard for me to keep up. Everything I was learning in college, I was supposed to learn in high school,” she says.