I have a column in today's USA Today about a topic we've been discussing on this blog: paying math teachers more than other teachers in order to increase quality and quantity. Here's a link to the article, "Making Math Pay."
For the piece, I got to visit with some incredibly dynamic math and science teachers at Banana Kelly High School in the Bronx, interviewed Jim Simons (referred to once in the Financial Times as the world's smartest billionaire), and generally came away convinced of what I often find. There are some very good small programs out there, including Math for America, the Cristo Rey schools I wrote about this fall, the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship I wrote about last winter, etc. These three programs are particularly interesting because they all aim to achieve scale. Math for America is being replicated in a handful of other cities, the Cristo Rey Network now has 19 members, and NFTE is in hundreds of schools.
Of course, the question is, does any of this move the needle? There are 50 million K-12 students out there. These three programs have wonderful results, but they help just a few thousand kids apiece.
Then again, I guess there's another question: does that matter? Maybe we can't necessarily move the needle for everyone, but as long as there are enough programs that do work -- affordable Catholic schools available to inner city kids, entrepreneurship programs that teach kids actual workable economics and that they always have the ability to make a job if they can't get one, a core cadre of excellent math teachers in urban schools -- there are life rafts for kids and families that choose to look for them. And there is something to that, even if it isn't everything.