The two partner school districts, HISD and AISD, are pro-active educational institutions that strive to develop and maintain "next generation" resources in curriculum and professional development to help meet the needs of their diverse, ever-changing populations. Both school districts are predominately minority school districts. Approximately 88% (235,000) of the total student population of 267,000 is Hispanic or African American. Over a quarter of the students in the two districts are identified as having limited English proficiency with over 70 languages spoken in the home. As reflected by free and reduced lunch statistics, the number of economically disadvantaged students, currently at 79%, increases annually. Although great strides in student achievement have been made in the two school districts over the last several years, data from the first administration of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) indicate that much work needs to be done to improve student knowledge and skills in mathematics and to decrease the achievement gaps among ethnic groups.
Rice University is a nationally-recognized research institution with exemplary departments and programs that is collaborating for the first time to make an impact on public pre-college education. Unlike many other universities, Rice has three complementary departments devoted to the mathematical sciences that have different research focuses and different strengths. They are Computational and Applied Mathematics (CAAM), Mathematics (MATH), and Statistics (STAT). Rice lacks a Department of Education; however, the Rice University School Mathematics Project (RUSMP) fills this void in the university in mathematics education, delivering at least five graduate courses per year to Houston-area mathematics teachers. RUSMP is acknowledged as the premier mathematics education center in this part of the country working closely with 17 school districts and 10 private schools in the greater Houston area to improve the teaching of mathematics in grades PreK-12. Although limited partnerships among CAAM, MATH, STAT and RUSMP have existed in the past, MLI represents the first unified partnership at Rice with the focus of improving secondary mathematics instruction and has the potential to create a new model of collaboration for the university as well as the nation.