The Launch Years Initiative: Reimagining Mathematics for Equitable Outcomes

In 2018, Education Strategy Group became a collaborating partner on the Launch Years initiative, which seeks to reimagine and better align mathematics courses and expectations from high school to postsecondary education to the workforce. The initiative is explicitly centered on improving outcomes for Black, Latinx, and Native American students as well as students from low-income backgrounds. Mathematics—specifically traditional Algebra II coursework—is too often a barrier to postsecondary success for these populations. 

Each year, more than 30 percent of students in two- and four-year institutions enroll in remedial mathematics courses upon entry. And only one in 10 of those students are likely to ever attain a postsecondary credential. Students of color, low-income students, and those that are the first in their family to attend college are more likely than their peers to place into developmental sequences. This is happening at a time when mathematics has become increasingly important to a growing number of fields of study and their related professions. 

Over the past two years, a cross-sector group of K-12 and higher education regional, state, and national leaders have engaged in consensus building, strategy development, and new course design work. In addition, three states—Georgia, Texas, and Washington—have convened steering committees to set a vision for multiple, high-quality mathematics pathways in high school that prepare students—especially those from traditionally underserved student populations—for postsecondary success. ESG supports each state steering committee in their efforts to identify policies and structures to improve alignment of students’ high school mathematics experiences with their college and career aspirations, and has worked closely with leaders in all three states to place equity at the front and center of these efforts. 

The Launch Years efforts take a multi-layered approach to building more equitable mathematics experiences for Black, Latinx, Native American, and low-income students. At the state level, the work of the initiative focuses on developing the policy infrastructure, enabling conditions, and state-level support for replacing a traditional, singular mathematics pathway with multiple mathematics pathways and high-quality coursework. State steering committees are engaged in work that is focused on serving the students that have the furthest to go. This includes identifying approaches to provide academic catch-up for students in high school, building robust navigation and advising supports, and re-examining longstanding policy structures—like assessment requirements—that impede student progress to and through higher education. The end goal of all of these efforts is to expand access to higher levels of mathematics education to students for whom mathematics have traditionally been a barrier. 

The work has already begun to bring about practical change. To target efforts more narrowly, ESG and the state steering committees have been working with a specific region in each state to expand 12th grade transition courses, which enable students to demonstrate postsecondary readiness through high school coursework without additional testing. The regions were selected based upon their demographic makeup in a deliberate effort to immediately bring this work to communities with high populations of students of color and from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Efforts are well underway to build the infrastructure for transition course implementation and piloting so that students who might be struggling will receive the appropriate academic, social, and emotional supports needed to help them successfully place directly into credit-bearing coursework in higher education.