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$15 Million to 1,000 Top Math & Science Teachers: How ‘Math for America’ Is Boosting STEM in Schools

By Kei-Sygh Thomas | September 25, 2017

Math for America master teachers collaborate during a recent professional learning opportunity at MfA's New York City headquarters. (Courtesy Math for America)

Math for America, a 13-year-old nonprofit that supports New York City’s strongest math and science teachers, this month awarded 300 new, four-year fellowships to its latest class, bringing the total number of teachers in the program to over 1,000 and the dollar amount committed to over $15 million.

In all, MfA says it will invest nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in STEM educators in the country’s largest school district between 2013 and 2022. MfA fellows, who go through a competitive screening process before being chosen, receive $15,000 yearly stipends while engaging in intense professional development.

They meet regularly over the course of the school year to “deepen their content knowledge, refine and expand their skills, and collaborate with other teachers to examine the best ways to teach every student in their respective classrooms,” MfA said. Many of the programs are designed and run by the teachers themselves.

“The financial support from MfA — in the form of yearly stipends, professional grants, and resource funding — is incredible. But the community is truly the greatest benefit of an MfA fellowship,” Patrick Honner, an 11-year MfA master teacher who teaches at Brooklyn Technical High School, said in a release.

“The MfA community challenges us to learn and lead, through unique professional opportunities that recognize teachers as both learners and experts. It inspires us to continually grow as teachers, and provides the support we need to be successful. And above all, it’s a place where I always feel like a respected professional, surrounded by other respected professionals.”

MfA President John Ewing, a former college math professor and former executive director of the American Mathematical Society, said the organization believes that improving public education for all students must involve recognizing and nurturing the very best teachers. He said much of the emphasis in education reform has been focused on fixing the lowest-performing schools and addressing the most ineffective teachers.

“What I do know is that you can’t succeed if you only concentrate on the broken parts,” Ewing said.

He said 7 out of 10 MfA teachers are “in low-income, high-needs schools. These are incredible teachers, and it’s really important that we keep them there.”

In a 2010–14 Math for America study of over 15,000 teachers in New York City public schools, annual attrition for experienced STEM teachers was 9 percent. For MfA teachers, it was less than half that amount during the same four-year period.

When great teachers are present in the classroom, student benefit is tremendous: Studies consistently show that teacher quality is a major indicator of student success, perhaps even more than curriculum, technology, or money.

The state of New York launched its own master teacher program based on the MfA model in 2013 and has awarded fellowships to more than 620 outstanding STEM teachers in rural and suburban districts across the state. MfA has also tried to spread its mission to neighboring Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, but the substantial amount of money the program requires remains a challenge, Ewing said.

Independent MfA programs have sprung up in Los Angeles, San Diego, Berkeley, Washington, D.C., Boston, and Utah, the organization said.

Math for America is primarily funded by private donations from the Simons Foundation, which was established by Jim Simons, founder and chairman of Renaissance Technologies, and his wife, Marilyn.

MfA by the numbers: 2017

Over 1,000 MfA Teachers

  • More than 800 master teachers
  • Nearly 200 early career teachers

Over 500 Math Teachers and 500 Science Teachers

  • 75% teach high school
  • 25% teach middle or elementary school
  • MfA teachers teach in over 400 public schools
  • MfA teachers teach more than 110,000 students

MfA Teachers Stay in the Classroom

  • Over 450 have been teaching for 10 or more years
  • Nearly 400 have been teaching for five to nine years
  • Nearly 200 have been teaching for one to four years

Borough Breakdown

  • More than 350 teach in Manhattan
  • More than 300 teach in Brooklyn
  • Nearly 200 teach in the Bronx
  • More than 150 teach in Queens
  • More than 20 teach in Staten Island
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