• About
  • Partnerships
  • Challenges
  • Awarded Grants
  • Grant Opportunities
  • News

Balance the Equation - FAQs

1. What problem is Balance the Equation trying to solve?

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is seeking to disrupt the deeply imbalanced system against this generation – and previous generations – of Black, Latino, English Learners (ELs), and students experiencing poverty in the United States, who we will refer to as priority students, as it relates to their Algebra 1 experience in 7th, 8th, or 9th grade, in-class or online.

2. Why is this challenge centered around priority students, and not other student groups?
Our north star goal in our K-12 strategy is to dramatically improve outcomes for Black and Latino students, as well as students experiencing poverty. This new Grand Challenge provides an opportunity to deliver on that promise and include English Learners. All priority students in this Grand Challenge have tremendous assets to bring to mathematics that have not always been recognized. Through this challenge, we aim to change that.

3. What types of solutions are you looking for?

This opportunity envisions developing innovative supplemental resources that can be used as a support that expands access to core content while addressing a variety of student learning needs, and harnessing students' identities, interests, and creativity. To maximize student impact and expand access to challenging content that is too often withheld from priority students, successful applications will identify a specific core mathematics curriculum or course with which the new solutions are meant to be paired. Core curriculum may be a standalone Algebra 1 course, or a middle school math curriculum that includes algebraic concepts in 7th and 8th grades. Solutions should set forth clear use cases: (e.g., differentiation for group or individual practice; formal intervention), including potential setting (e.g., in general education classroom; in intervention settings; for use at home leveraging virtual supports). We are looking for solutions that:

  • Expand daily practices for productive mathematical discussions to build their math identity and reiterate math's real-life connection in the evolving 'classroom environment' (physically or virtually; synchronously or asynchronously).
  • Incorporate tasks and/or lessons that empower them and/or reflect students' culture and community, or serve to explore issues of humanity and social justice.
  • Alter the focus of mathematical aptitude from "easily, quickly, and independently arriving at a correct answer"[1] oriented around the individual to more thoughtful, iterative approaches that promote multi-person processes and interactions.
  • Add assessment approaches that empower and humanize students and leverage more nuanced forms of data.
  • Enhance teacher professional development so educators are set up to meet the unique needs of each student, reflect upon their own biases, and build relationships that allow students to feel supported.

At this time, we are not looking for solutions that:

  • Are focused on mathematical subjects outside Algebra 1, or specific mathematical content that exceeds the learning goals of Algebra 1.
  • Are focused on policy agendas.
  • Do not sufficiently incorporate priority students who identify as Black, Latino, English learners, and/or students experiencing poverty in the United States.

4. What does success look like?

The Gates Foundation has identified the following as critical characteristics of a successful submission:

1) Responsiveness of solution to priority students' needs outlined in the Area(s) of Focus We believe these areas have the biggest opportunity for altering the traditional classroom experience for priority students in order to achieve our desired outcomes.

  • Builds out Support Systems: Facilitates the creation and maintenance of inclusive mathematics communities – in person or virtual – between students and adults to build relationships. These supports build critical consciousness among educators and an understanding about sharing power with students in co-constructing the mathematics learning community; a more expansive view of mathematics among adults and students; and promote meaningful collaboration, deep mathematical thinking, and exploration among students and adults. (S2S, T2T, S2T, S2Adult, T2SFamily)
  • Improves Relevance of Algebra Content: Increases the relatability by using real-world examples that connect to the interests of students in the mathematics community (e.g., classroom) and increase focus on making sense of Algebraic concepts.
  • Elevates Understanding of Math Language: Improves linguistic awareness and practices by tackling math vocabulary, syntax, morphology [changing word forms], argument structure, or feedback for students (in a manner that especially prioritizes emerging multilingual students, but also benefit monolingual English speakers) and/or teachers. Leverages linguistic and other assets of emerging multilingual students. Takes care not to create avoidable linguistic barriers to mathematical concepts.
  • Empowers and Strengthens Teacher Practices: Offers new materials, tools, and strategies that empower, support, and expand teachers' knowledge and use of instructional practices that meet individual student needs, develop mathematical proficiency, and create positive class experiences on a daily basis.
  • Develops New or Better Feedback Mechanisms: Explicitly applies assessment or progress monitoring data for instructional purposes to enhance access to core Algebraic content.

2) Designed for use with a high-quality core curriculum as part of a coherent math instructional system.

Having access to high-quality curriculum materials is an important factor to increase equity for priority students and to dismantle the belief that 'only a select few are good at math.' While the market is full of free and easily accessible options, today many of these solutions do not provide a full view of students, cannot easily be used together with a core curriculum, and fluctuate wildly in price point. Applicants will need to identify which of these three key components their solution covers.

  • Independent Practice: Exercises and problems tied to core curriculum. Can be assigned in class or as homework. Provides students the opportunity to wrestle with content they have yet to master.
  • Intervention: Designed specifically to help struggling students participate in mainstream classes or provide additional enrichment opportunities for students ready to extend their learning.
  • Assessment to Inform Instruction: Diagnostic and interim assessments that provide data to inform instruction.

3) Likelihood to address desired priority student and teacher outcomes

We define a likelihood of addressing outcomes by a combination of:

  1. Existing evidence that the solution and/or critical components of the solution can move one or more of these outcomes, and
  2. A compelling, evidence-based articulation of the reasons why the solution has a likelihood of moving one or more of these outcomes ("why it will work").

We see successful solutions tackling some of the following outcomes:

Student Outcomes

  • Increased positive experience in math classrooms
  • Increased positive identity as mathematicians
  • Increased math growth and proficiency

Teacher Outcomes

  • Increased positive mindsets/beliefs about priority student math learning
  • Increased skills in adapting curricula and instruction to meet student needs
  • Increased use of effective math instructional practices

4) Potential for pilot in Phase 2: Pilot Study for School Year 2021-2022 or 2022-2023 alongside American Institutes for Research (AIR)

AIR will work with each Balance the Equation Grand Challenge awardee to prepare and submit a pilot study plan for Phase 2. Each awardee will use their pilot study plan as the basis for their Phase 2 proposal, as described in our 'Timeline and Process' section in the challenge.

5) Creativity and boldness of thought

We're searching for ingenuity. Unusual ideas, unexpected approaches, immersive concepts, solutions that surprise and delight. We’re looking for solutions that will challenge math education as we know it today.

5. How will applicants be reviewed?

Applications will be reviewed by internal Gates Foundation staff as well as outside subject matter experts and thought leaders within the realm of math relevance, content, language, assessment, professional learning, instructional practices, and the deep expertise centered around the needs of our priority students.

6. How should I apply?

Applications must be submitted through our online portal by responding to the questions within SurveyMonkey Apply. Applications submitted via email will not be considered. If you are an existing user, you can log in to your existing account. New users must create an account. The submission system will allow you to save your work as you progress, return to it, and then submit when you are ready up until the challenge closes on Friday, November 06, 2020 at Noon Pacific Time. Before beginning this application, we recommend that you take our pre-application survey. We acknowledge that our application process requires a substantial amount of your time and energy. We highly recommend that you start your application journey here by reading through this list of pre-application questions to self-identify your applicability. After completing the survey, please review our rules and guidelines. If you choose to take our pre-application survey, please note that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will not use responses to collect data about individual applicants. Completion of the pre-application survey is also not a guarantee of Phase 1 or Phase 2 funding.

7. How should COVID-19 be addressed in my application?

COVID-19 has impacted priority students and their educational experience. We recognize that the educational system moving forward has changed because of current COVID circumstances (remote, hybrid, and in-person learning) and as such, your solution should keep this in mind as it relates to the larger goal of the challenge.

8. How long is the challenge period?

The challenge is in two phases. Phase 1: Planning and Prototyping is 4 months and Phase 2: Pilot Study is 13-24 months.

9. How many grants will be awarded through the Balance the Equation Grand Challenge?

As part of Phase 1: Planning and Prototyping, 10-15 applicants are eligible to receive a one-time award of US$100,000. Upon completion of Phase 1: Planning and Prototyping, awardees have the opportunity to apply for a Phase 2: Pilot Study, where 8-10 finalists can receive an award up to US$1 million in funding for prototyping and implementation.

10. Are multiple applications allowed?

An applicant may submit only one application as the lead organization. Submit your best idea. You may submit multiple ideas in partnership with collaborators, but an organization may lead the submission of only one application.

11. Can I get feedback on my idea?

Due to the high volume of inquiries, we are not able to provide individual guidance on solutions either before or after submission. We highly recommend that you take our pre-application survey in order to self-identify your applicability. This survey will give you a clearer picture of the challenge objectives and if your solution addresses our success criteria (which is outlined above in question three.)

12. I am an existing Gates Foundation US Program grantee. Can my Program Officer help me with my application?

We have chosen not to provide extra help to our existing grantees. We want to ensure that applicants who have no access to the Gates Foundation get the same level of support for their application as those who already have access. This means all information to support applications can be found on this page. If you have a specific question, please email [email protected].

13. Who is eligible to apply?

This Grand Challenge is open to organizations globally, including non-profit organizations and for-profit companies. Examples of eligible applicants include (but are not limited to):

  • Collegiate Educators and Researchers. Those developing academic models, who have written papers, or who are doing/have done research projects in math.
  • Community Leaders, Coaches, and Classroom-based Educators. Those that work directly with middle school or high school students and have implemented or developed their own strategies, approaches, or tools.
  • Content Developers and/or Publishers. Organizations responsible for the creation of curricula, defining strategic curriculum goals, content distribution, or determining content quality and/or effectiveness, i.e. publishers, state education agencies, districts, schools, or teachers.
  • EdTech Developers. Institutions that are developing digital tools, games, and applications.
  • Professional Learning Communities. Groups that meet regularly, share expertise, and work collaboratively to improve teaching skills and the academic performance of students, i.e. development networks.
  • School and District Administrators. Those implementing district initiatives or strategies for their charter, magnet, or public school and/or district.

Please refer to our rules and guidelines for a complete set of eligibility requirements, and please contact [email protected] with any questions regarding eligibility.

14. If I am based outside the United States, can I still apply?

Yes. Applicants based outside the United States are eligible and strongly encouraged to apply.

15. My solution currently serves priority students outside the United States. Should I respond to the Grand Challenge?

Yes, as long as your solution is able to be implemented in the 2021-2022 school year in the United States.

16. Will my application be confidential?

Submissions may be shared with foundation employees, AIR, contingent workers, consultants, and subject matter experts. We ask that you do NOT submit confidential information. All submissions become the property of the Gates Foundation and we are under no obligation to treat any submitted materials as confidential even if you characterize it as such.

17. How are you addressing FERPA and other data privacy protections?

We consider all laws and regulations to be a baseline for action, and will expect any partners or applicants to strictly adhere to privacy laws and regulations with respect to use of student personally identifiable data. Compliance with education data laws will foster trust and collaboration among intermediaries and their schools, districts, or other relevant parties. You agree that you will not submit any personally identifiable student data to the foundation as part of this process. Our data principles are outlined here: Bill & Melinda Gates Data Stewardship Principles.

18. In the pre-application survey it asks if my solution is designed for use with a high-quality core curriculum and asks for evidence of high-quality from a third party review. I’m confused. Are you asking for my solution to have a third party review or the high-quality curriculum?

In both the pre-application survey and the application itself, we are asking every applicant to identify which high-quality core curriculum their solutions will align to/cohere with/be usable with. Once the applicant has identified the high-quality core curriculum, we then ask for applicants to upload evidence that the curriculum is high-quality from a third-party like EdReports, IMET, or Equip rubrics. You are uploading a third party review of the curriculum and not your solution.

If the high quality curriculum does not yet have a third-party review from one of these sources and you are awarded Phase 1 funding, you would need to have a third-party review from one of these sources completed before being considered for Phase 2 funding. In order to have the best chance of success for being awarded a Phase 1 award, we highly encourage applicants to pick a high-quality core curriculum that already has a third-party review from EdReports, IMET, or Equip rubrics.

19. Is it a requirement that the schools I plan to work with have official Title 1 status at the time of application submission?

No, you are welcome to apply now and mention who your suggested school sites might be, without having Title 1 status resolved at this point in time. If awarded a Phase 1 grant, you will work closely with our learning partner (AIR) to determine which schools would be the best candidates for a Phase 2 pilot study. All schools that will participate in pilot studies will be Title 1 schools and their status will be confirmed during Phase 1.

20. Are you looking specifically for math solutions that address students in grades 7-9 or will you consider solutions that are designed for students in early grades, K-6?

This challenge is for use with students grades 7-9 taking Algebra 1 (or their teachers). Solutions focused solely on earlier grade content (i.e. grades K-6) will not be considered.

That said, we recognize that reinforcing earlier math content may be important for 7-9th grade Algebra 1 students, to address unfinished learning. For this reason we have question 17 in the Grand Challenge application. The question states: How will your solution coherently reinforce key mathematical concepts from earlier grades in ways that foster positive mathematical identities in students? Provide specific examples that include naming the specific mathematics content and how the solution will address it in this manner. We look forward to hearing your hypotheses or evidence on which earlier math concepts will be important to reinforce in your solution.

21. What about solutions that are curriculum-neutral? How important is it to connect to a particular set of curriculum materials?

For this Grand Challenge, it is important to connect to a particular, high-quality curricula.

22. As we begin the application, should we already have specific schools in mind for the pilot or is that part of the process?

If you have particular schools in mind, that would be wonderful, but it is not required. If selected, you will partner with AIR and they will be able to help facilitate a school/solution provider matchmaking process, if needed.

23. If my organization does not create our own proposal, how can we later access the solutions that are created in this process?

We will be announcing to the field who we awarded in both Phase 1 and Phase 2.

24. As an interested individual, I would love to get an organization to partner with. However. I am worried about the limited time frame. Do you have any advice on how to portray the challenge in a way that does not sound as though I am asking for a significant time contribution at the last minute?

We would suggest: A few weeks ago, the Gates Foundation launched Balance the Equation: A Grand Challenge for Algebra 1 (so they understand that this was recently announced). Then, go on to state that the application window is short - the deadline is November 6th at Noon PT. Then, approach them with the ask of how you would like to explore a partnership.

25. Is it very difficult that one solution fully covers all the aspects in a curriculum. Can my solution be complemented with another applicant so both can cover the curriculum in a 100%?

Yes. We encourage partnerships for many reasons and this is one of them.

26. Does our solution need to be designed specifically for in-school learning, or can the solution be a model for out of school learning opportunities?

Out of school learning opportunities are eligible in this challenge. We just ask that you are able to tie what is happening in out of school time with what is happening in the classroom.

27. Can you please clarify the project timeline? What if the product is at the idea stage and development needs more than five months?

We are holding a handful of spots for really promising ideas that could be implemented after the Fall 2021 implementation date. It is possible that we may pick an idea that will be implemented in Fall 2022, but we anticipate the vast majority of funding will be of ideas/solutions that can be ready for a Fall 2021 timeline.

28. If we have an idea but have not implemented it yet, how can we get feedback from students?

We encourage you to tap your personal network of friends and families who might have priority students to see if you can run your idea by them and see what they think.

29. If your solution is focused on teacher outcomes, question 18 (in the application) may be a bit hard to answer. Do you have thoughts on how to approach this? Should we provide input from teachers’ perspective on the program?

Yes. That would work. Essentially, the spirit of this question is to have you talk to potential end users of your solution.

30. Is there a reason you have decided to put your focus on supplemental programming as opposed to ensuring that core programming can be reimagined to meet the outcomes you've described?

We have other investments geared towards ensuring core curricula can meet the student and teacher outcomes we described in this challenge. Balance the Equation is one investment among many in our portfolio.

31. I would love more information about the desire for these solutions to be scalable innovations that can be equitably implemented and promote systems change. Could you share more on your point of view on that?

The reason we are emphasizing this is, ultimately, we are trying to spur meaningful innovation that can change the "gatekeeper" status of Algebra 1 into one that supports priority students and is more of a "gateway" to future success in taking more advanced math courses, college, career. What we've seen at times is if solution providers do not think of spread and scale at the beginning, then what can be developed is a niche program/product that only helps a handful of students and isn't one that can easily spread and be used in a variety of contexts. We also emphasize the use in Title 1 schools as, if successful after the pilot study is complete, any solutions would need to be ones that Title 1 schools would be willing to pay for or adopt. For example, we think it is very important to have someone on the team that has experience getting products into school that can be equitably implemented (not so costly that no one can afford it).

32. This Grand Challenge is centered around "priority students", who are Black and Latino students, as well as students experiencing poverty. May Native/Indigenous students also be considered priority students for this Grand Challenge?

When the K-12 Education team created our most recent overall education strategy (circa 2017), we changed from "all public school students" to instead looking at education data and making choices as to the three most minoritized groups within our public K-12 education system. Those three groups were identified as: Black, Latino, and/or students experiencing poverty. When each Program Officer on our K-12 team makes a grant (or a Grand Challenge in this case), we have to ensure that we are within our approved strategy as who our priority students are.

In this Grand Challenge, we were able to move forward with Black, Latino, English Learners, and/or students experiencing poverty as four groups that fit within our approved strategy. As we know, neither English Learners or students experiencing poverty are race-based constructs. If you apply for this Grand Challenge and the Indigenous students you seek to support are either English Learners or students experiencing poverty, then your application would indeed be reviewed and considered for Phase 1 funding.

Didn’t get your question answered? Please email [email protected]

Please reference the Glossary of Terms for definitions of terminology used throughout.



[1] "Five Guiding Principles for Creating Inclusive Math Environments," August 31, 2020, https://mindsetscholarsnetwork.org/five-guiding-principles-for-creating-inclusive-mathematics-environments/

Great ideas come from everywhere.

Sign up for email updates of the latest grant opportunities and awards.

View the Grand Challenges partnership network

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is part of the Grand Challenges partnership network. Visit grandchallenges.org to view the map of awarded grants across this network and grant opportunities from partners.