Training Program for Math Teachers Will Shift Its Focus

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A program that attracts and trains math teachers is shifting its focus away from new recruits to teachers who are already in the classroom, and plans to more than double its presence in New York City in the next several years.

Math for America -- of no relation to Teach for America -- began in New York City in 2004 with $25 million from its founder, James H. Simons, a former hedge fund manager, to train 180 high school math teachers and supplement their salaries over four years.

By the beginning of this school year, it had 330 teachers in New York City. But the city's budget austerity and hiring freeze have led to year-after-year of hand-wringing as the program tried to find jobs for its new trainees.

In response to the city's greatly diminished appetite for new teachers, as well as the need to encourage talented working teachers to stay on the job, the foundation is switching tactics. Over the next five years, Math for America plans to recruit a maximum of 25 new teachers annually, while admitting hundreds of experienced, non-Math for America teachers to the program.

"We want to focus on the best teachers we can find who are already in the profession," said Math for America's president, John Ewing.

The program is also opening its doors to more than math teachers: next year, for the first time, experienced science teachers working in middle and high schools can apply.

Five years from now, Mr. Ewing plans to have 800 to 1,000 teachers across New York City in Math for America -- a number that he hopes will be enough to increase student performance on a large scale and persuade the federal government to expand the program.

As far as enticing teachers' participation, that is the simple part. In addition to regular training sessions and the guidance of experienced educators, Math for America master teachers -- those who have been teaching for more than four years -- receive a yearly stipend of $15,000 on top of their regular city paycheck.

The experienced city teachers that Math for America plans to recruit will be considered master teachers, with the same requirements and the same stipend.

For some teachers, that is enough to prevent them from taking a second job or leaving the profession altogether. Though they have to reapply every four years, master teachers can remain in the program indefinitely.

The foundation is also extending itself into the realm of school leadership. This year, for the first time, it has a small group of school administrators who attend seven meetings a year and receive $5,000 annual stipends.

Mr. Ewing said the stipends should not be confused with merit pay.

"Our stipends are really tied to simply rewarding people because they’re outstanding teachers, and it conveys to those teachers more respect and prestige," he said. "The mistake is to condition it on something as specific and superficial as test scores."

To pay for the yearly stipends and its staff, Math for America plans to increase its budget from just under $20 million to roughly $30 million a year.

If the stipend was why Melanie Smith, a math teacher at the Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice, joined Math for America, it is only a small part of why she stayed. Ms. Smith joined the program straight from Columbia University and taught for four years as a fellow, receiving a total of $100,000. Now she is a master teacher.

"I feel like Math for America is growing to fit the needs of former fellows," she said. "As we’re growing, M.F.A. still wants to be a part of what we’re doing."