Since when is mastery of algebra a “lofty mathematics bar”? (warning, NYT link)
I am so tired of teachers complaining that they’re being required to teach to the test. In the case of mathematics, especially, there’s no excuse for not teaching to the test – there are clear concepts that demonstrate mastery, the answers are not vague and ethereal and open to interpretation. Instead teachers try to slide on the idea that some students are too stupid to learn algebra, when I think an argument can be made that everyone from normal intelligence up should be able to learn first-year algebra. It’s not just about the math, stupid, it’s about understanding how pieces of the world fit together. It’s about learning to think critically and logically – something a writer for the New York Times likely doesn’t understand.
Hacker tries to argue that math is the reason kids drop out of high school and college. I believe the real reason math is so problematic is math teachers – too many teachers who never loved math are in the position of teaching that apathy to their students. Students who do well in math go on to be engineers and scientists and take other geeky jobs that pay much better than teaching. There’s no distinction at the K-12 level, though, for paying math and science teachers notably more to entice math achievers to go into teaching. In some cases, such as the state of Colorado’s retirement plan, the system has been designed to discourage career math and science workers from going back and teaching later in their careers by leveraging harsh penalties on retirement pay for taking the teacher salary’s pay cut.*
I’m curious to hear what our three readers think – do you feel math and science teachers should be paid a salary that is maybe not comparable to what they’d make in the private sector, but high enough that they’re going to have to eat love of teaching for dinner? Or should anyone who wants to teach just be willing to make that sacrifice?
*I know the retirement thing makes no sense unless you’re in it, so I’ll try to explain further – I know a systems architect (that’s a high-level computer nerd, for those of you who aren’t geeks) who works for a school district. His plan when he started working for the district was to work in IT until he hit 63, then teach for five years or so during the years when a geek’s not likely to be at the top of his game but isn’t entirely useless. He’s been in a mentoring role in his department for a long time, he’s demonstrably good at teaching, so having him bring his actual job experience into a classroom would be valuable for the kids. The Colorado retirement system restructured a few years back to pay retirement based on the last three years of employment, not the highest three years. Because of this, his retirement pay would be taking as much as a 70% hit if he chose to teach for any of the last few years of his career. Because all the state school districts and colleges use the same, failing, retirement system, there’s no option to retire at a normal retirement age and then teach elsewhere unless he moves out of state or waits a couple of years and then goes back into the system.