Math is Foundational to 21st Century Success

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City Year and HSBC have partnered on an effort to boost math readiness in high-risk communities. Credit: City Year.


HSBC and City Year have partnered on a three-year effort to improve math performance in high-need communities.

Today, many of the fastest-growing and best-paying jobs in the United States are in STEM-related fields: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.[1] Careers in banking and finance, information technology, health care and construction are among STEM jobs that are projected to grow to more than 9 million from 2012 to 2022. There has also been an increase in the demand for STEM skills in non-STEM fields like manufacturing, sales and recruitment. Furthermore, it is estimated that 80 percent of so-called “middle-skill” jobs – jobs that require more than a high school diploma but not necessarily a four-year college degree – now require strong math skills and digital proficiency.[2]

Yet, despite this growth, many of these jobs will remain unfilled because millions of Americans lack the right skills.[3] While nearly half of high school graduates in 2016 expressed an interest in pursuing STEM majors or careers, just 26 percent of them met a college-readiness benchmark that indicates whether a student is well-prepared for first-year courses such as calculus, biology, chemistry and physics.[4] This skills gap has long-term implications for the American economy and global competitiveness.

For the more than 10 million children in the United States who are living in high-poverty communities, this gap is even wider. The percentages of African-American and Hispanic students – who disproportionately attend schools in high-need communities[5] – meeting or surpassing the STEM college-readiness benchmark in 2016 were far lower than the average: 9 and 18 percent, respectively. Just 2.2 percent of Hispanic and 2.7 percent of African-American students have earned a degree in STEM fields.[6]

STEM education – particularly strengthening math skills­ – is key to the success of the U.S. economy. But there is clearly a disconnect between the skills and knowledge young adults need to succeed in many 21st-century jobs and the educational opportunities that many students, particularly those living in high-need communities, are receiving. Some students decide early on in their academic careers that they are not “good” at STEM subjects, cutting themselves – and employers – off from a huge supply of talent. Research has shown that failing algebra, in particular, can place a student at risk for dropping out of high school.

One of our greatest opportunities to closing this gap is to reach students early and inspire them to build critical math and science skills along with confidence and passion for these subjects.

 While nearly half of high school graduates in 2016 expressed an interest in pursuing STEM majors or careers, just 26 percent of them met a college-readiness benchmark that indicates whether a student is well-prepared for first-year courses

HSBC, one of the world’s largest banking and financial service leaders and a company with a legacy of providing young people with educational opportunity, celebrated its 150th year in 2015 with additional donations to partners around the world. As part this anniversary celebration, HSBC made a three-year commitment to City Year, an education organization, fueled by national service, that helps students and schools succeed. Together, HSBC and City Year have collaborated to identify new opportunities to build critical skills and confidence in math for students in high-need communities.

“Everyone at HSBC understands just how critical solid math skills are to success in a wide range of professions, including the financial services industry,” said Kelly W. Fisher, HSBC Senior Vice President and U.S. Head of Corporate Sustainability. “We are proud to partner with City Year to ensure that more students receive the mathematics supports and interventions they need to be successful in math courses, graduate from high school and succeed in college and career, including pursuing good jobs in the STEM fields.”

Each day, City Year helps to provide individualized, research-based supports to more than 200,000 students in some of our highest-need communities. City Year deploys teams of highly-trained City Year AmeriCorps members to partner with classroom teachers and provide full-time tutoring and mentorship from the first morning bell through afterschool programs. Schools that partner with City Year are two-to-three times more likely to improve on mathematics and English Language Arts assessments than similar schools without City Year, a 2015 study found.[7]

Since 2015, HSBC has supported City Year in helping identify students in high-need communities who are struggling and need additional support to get back on track and build their confidence in math. Together, the partners identified and tested a math assessment and curriculum to more effectively assess individualized academic needs, recommend instructional practices to address those needs, and more effectively measure student performance in math.

“Prior to 2014, schools across the City Year network were using a wide variety of assessments to gauge where students needed the most support, making it challenging for City Year to discuss and track student progress on an organizational level,” says Melissa Rowker, City Year’s National Director of Academic Programs. “The diversity of assessments also made designing and administering trainings to City Year AmeriCorps member and staff challenging.”

Together, the partners tested several math assessments and ultimately selected the Math Inventory as the most effective math assessment paired with the Do the Math and Do the Math Now! curricula. During the 2016-2017 school year, City Year scaled the use of the Math Inventory to at least one school at all of its 28 U.S. sites and have reached more than 30,500 students to help build their confidence in math. In just three years, we have seen some promising preliminary results. For example, City Year Los Angeles has introduced the Math Inventory to all of its partner schools, which resulted in 288 AmeriCorps members helping to build critical math skills and confidence for more than1, 500 students.

“Many of the students we serve are one or more grade levels behind in math,” said Jonathan J. Lopez, Managing Director of Impact at City Year Los Angeles. “It’s very important that our City Year AmeriCorps members have tools that help them  determine where students are and then use the appropriate interventions to help them strengthen foundational skills and improve in their math classes. The Math Inventory assessment is helping us do this every day in the schools we serve.”

Together, HSBC and City Year have collaborated to identify new opportunities to build critical skills and confidence in math for students in high-need communities.

Nearly half (48 percent) of students who received additional math support in City Year Los Angeles’ partner schools met or exceeded their annual growth targets, an impressive accomplishment for a relatively new program, says Rowker. Through HSBC’s support, City Year is planning to expand the use of the Math Inventory to its 313 partner schools next year, reaching at least 50,000 students.

Last year, two schools in New York piloted the math curriculum along with the assessment and reported favorable results.

“The Do the Math Now! curriculum provides hands-on learning tools and useful strategies for approaching challenging topics like fractions,” said City Year AmeriCorps member Hannah Findlay, who serves at the Bronx Early College Academy. “The curriculum has strengthened my students’ math skills and being able to see their improvement has been a confidence booster for many of them.”

“HSBC’s investment and partnership have enabled City Year to more effectively assess student progress and deliver interventions,” said Dr. Sheryl Boris-Schacter, City Year Vice President of National Program Design. “Over the past three years, we have been able to identify and roll out a more standardized measurement tool for student performance in mathematics that we believe will help more students succeed in this key subject area that can open so many doors.”

We know that failing math can jeopardize students’ chances of graduating from high school and keep them from pursuing STEM-related careers or competing for jobs that require math or technical skills. HSBC and City Year are committed to ensuring that all children have the chance to realize their full potential and compete in the increasingly competitive 21st century workforce. We all benefit when students succeed.

[1] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2014.) STEM 101: Intro to tomorrow’s jobs. Retrieved from:

[2] U.S. News and World Report. “Non-STEM Fields Increasingly Require STEM Skills.” April 2015. Retrieved from:

[3] US News & World Report. “The U.S. News/Raytheon STEM Index Shows America will Have to Depend on Foreign Workers to Fill STEM Jobs.” Retrieved from

[4] The Condition of STEM. (2016.) Retrieved from:

[5] The Condition of Education 2017. (2017.) National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from:

[6] Smithsonian. “The STEM Imperative.” Retrieved from:

[7] Meredith, Julie, Anderson, Leslie M. (2015.) Analysis of the Impacts of City Year’s Whole School Whole Child Model on Partner Schools’ Performance. Retrieved from:


This is a guest blog post from City Year, Inc., an education organization focused on the needs of high-risk students.