Mad for March Mathness

As a Connecticut native and daughter of a UConn graduate, college basketball fever runs deep in my blood. This week, I’m celebrating the Huskies’ number one overall bid in the NCAA Tournament – but also the first round of the Collaborative for Student Success’ March Mathness. While I get to chew my nails watching UConn play, I have a much more active role in how the math bracket unfolds. 

Along with my Collaborative teammates, Chad Aldeman and Dale Chu, I’m ranking my picks for nation-leading state math initiatives. Each of us has a different area of emphasis for our analysis – and it’ll come as no surprise to readers of this blog that my focus is on two things:

  1. Does the initiative make explicit connections to high-quality instructional materials and/or curriculum-aligned professional learning?
  2. Are educators and families meaningfully engaged in the initiative’s design, implementation, and/or feedback loops?

Here’s how my match-ups unfold:

Match 1: Alabama Numeracy Act vs. Kentucky HB 162

This match-up is how I’d feel if UConn was facing James Madison in the first round. The Alabama Numeracy Act is my leading contender to win it all with its close alignment to quality curriculum and nation-leading banner on the ceiling for a strong state role in math instruction. With so much to like in Kentucky’s new bill, they’re the hot new team no one wants to face early, but ultimately Alabama’s maturity wins the day here.

PICK: Alabama Numeracy Act


Match 2: Delaware Math Coalition vs. Arkansas LEARNS Act

Any statewide coalition that’s lasted nearly two decades gets my attention – and Delaware’s comes with detailed annual reports chock-full of information on the reach and success of their quality professional learning programs. Arkansas is a worthy opponent with the LEARNS Act, but a lack of attention to family engagement with instruction feels like a missed free throw. 

PICK: Delaware Math Coalition


Match 3: Colorado’s HB 23-1231 vs. West Virginia’s Third Grade Success Act

While it’s great to see West Virginia getting in the game with a concrete play to support quality instruction for younger students, Colorado’s state play spans more grade levels and offers more guidance on educator and family involvement. This one is close but Colorado wins out.

PICK: Colorado HB 23-1231


Match 4: Statewide Adoption of Zearn (NE, LA, CO, OH) vs. Alabama’s Summer Adventures in Learning (SAIL)

I’ve been watching Zearn for several years now and cheering for the strong evidence that it’s working to help lots of kids accelerate post-COVID. With educator training, family resources, and free access in several states, scale wins out here – though there’s a lot to like about the Alabama SAIL program, too.

PICK: Statewide Adoption of Zearn


Match 5: Kentucky’s Math Achievement Fund vs. The AI-Powered Khanmigo

While the potential of AI to transform individual student progress feels unlimited, all accounts seem to agree that we’re still in the early stages of working out kinks – not to mention ensuring explicit connections between AI tutoring and a student’s classroom curriculum. Kentucky gets the dunk here given the longevity of the Math Achievement Fund, its direct links to high-quality instruction, and strong evidence about its effectiveness.

PICK: Kentucky Mathematics Achievement Fund


Match 6: Massachusetts’ Math Acceleration Academies vs. New Jersey Tutoring Corps/Rekindle Education

Fun to see two of the perennial leading states for educational outcomes matching up in the first round and both are contenders. However, the statewide reach and transparent outcomes of the NJ Tutoring Corps paired with an educator-developed and focused coaching pilot prove too much competition for the Bay State to overcome.

PICK: New Jersey Tutoring Corps/Rekindle Education


Match 7: Automatic Enrollment in Math vs. Louisiana’s “Back to Basics in Math” (see “Play-In Round” below)

As I’ve written about previously, automatic enrollment has promise. I would like to see state policies make explicit connections to quality classroom curriculum and aligned teacher support, but data available so far points toward impressive gains in access that make this a stronger team than Louisiana.

PICK: Automatic Enrollment in Math


Match 8: Performance-Based Tutoring Contracts vs. Texas Math Solution

The incentive structure of Performance-Based Tutoring Contracts feels like a win-win, but details on direct links to classroom curriculum and professional learning are scant, and ensuring access to tutoring for the students who need it most remains a national challenge. The Texas Math Solution is directly linked to state academic standards and vetted quality curriculum, comes with resources tailored to students and families, and has educator focus groups reviewing its offerings – a clear winner. 

PICK: Texas Math Solution


Play-In Round: California Math Framework vs. Louisiana’s “Back to Basics in Math”

When it comes to publicly available material on the two competitors, this is a David v. Goliath. From my perspective looking for details on explicit connections to high-quality curriculum and professional learning, size actually matters here. Two dedicated chapters on these topics in the extensive California framework lay out good intentions – and given how far the Golden State has to go on these topics, this is an important step forward. Louisiana’s effort sounds well-intentioned, but without more specifics on how mandated numeracy training is — or isn’t — connected to classroom materials, it doesn’t get my vote.

PICK: California Math Framework


Good luck to all these worthy competitors in the first round of competition. Stay tuned for more – and Go Huskies!

Jocelyn Pickford is an education policy and communications specialist focusing on understanding and promoting practitioner-informed public policy across the private, public and non-profit sectors as a Senior Affiliate with HCM Strategists. She began her career in education as a high school English teacher in a regular and special education inclusion classroom and is now a public school parent and recent member of her local district school board. Previously, Jocelyn led the design, launch and implementation of the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship at the U.S. Department of Education to integrate teachers into the national education policy dialogue. Jocelyn’s passion for her work was seeded during her own public school education and took root during her classroom teaching experience in Fairfax County, Virginia, where she led action research and presented instructional materials to a variety of audiences. Jocelyn earned her bachelor’s degree from Trinity College (CT), working as a professional writer and editor prior to becoming a teacher, and obtained her master’s in secondary education from the George Washington University. Jocelyn lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and two children.