Sacha Blumen draws my attention to a profile of James Simons, a US mathematician (and hedge fund squillionaire) who has put together Math for America, with the goal of getting more mathematically talented teachers into American schools.
The number of students pursuing math and science degrees in America is in decline. Those that do study these subjects often enter fields that pay better than education. Simons’ idea for persuading more graduates to become educators is a no-brainer: Pay them more.
“With all the good will in the world, once you get married and have kids, it’s a tough job and the alternatives are so attractive,” Simons said, his voice a near-pitch-perfect Humphrey Bogart, with a slight Bostonian inflection. “Teaching math and science ought to be a professional activity in which those professionals are well-paid and happy to do that as a career.”
Jonathan Schweig, program manager at Math for America, gives a pep talk to recently graduated fellows before they begin work in classrooms in September. Credit: Scott Kawczynski
In order to turn his ideas into action, Simons recruited his poker buddies, other mathematicians, and educators to start Math for America as a non-profit pilot program in New York City.
“It’s more of a challenge here than anywhere else, and mathematicians like challenges,” said MfA Executive Director Irwin Kra, Simon’s long-time friend and colleague in the mathematics department at SUNY-Stony Brook, about the decision to begin in New York.
Together, Simons and his colleagues devised a plan to pay for each of the program’s participants (known as “fellows”) to receive a master’s degree in education and also provide them with stipends of $90,000 each, on top of their salaries, spread over their first five years in the program.