25 October 2007

Math for America plays with numbers

From the November 2007 Notices, an ad for Math for America (p. 1305):

"Do you know someone who loves π as much as pie? Would they also love a full-tuition scholarship for a master's degree in mathematics education, a New York State Teaching Certificate, and a $90,000 stipend in addition to a competitive salary as a New York City secondary school math teacher? Math for America... [etc.]"

I don't know about you, but when I see a five-figure number followed by the word "stipend" I automatically assume it's an annual stipend. It seems somehow disingenuous to put that number there; it turns out it's a five-year stipend. This is in addition to the usual salary one gets for teaching, though; the idea appears to be that this program is attracting teachers who actually know math by making up at least some of the difference between what they would make teaching and what they could make elsewhere. Also, the people in this program receive a full-tuition scholarship for a master's in math ed.

They don't report it as "$18,000 per year for five years" is because it's not; it's paid as $28,000 in the first year (which is mostly spent being trained as a teacher, and which doesn't carry a salary) and $11,000, $14,000, $17,000, and $20,000 in the second through fifth years (these are in addition to the usual salary a New York City public school teacher would receive). Still, why not say "$90,000 over five years"? I feel like they're trying to fool the people reading the ad -- but the people reading the ad are the people in the world who are least likely to be fooled by tricks played with numbers.

I'm not saying that the financial package isn't valuable. I'm just saying that it feels like the ad is hiding something because they don't give the time period.

It reminds me of a letter I got from a graduate school which claimed that my support package was something like $50,000 per year, which was actually $20,000 in annual stipend and $30,000 in tuition. (This was a school with a comparatively high tuition, obviously; I suspect they did this because the $50K number was larger than schools with lower tuitions but the same stipend would have reported.) But anybody who's actually comparing financial offers would think of them as "full tuition plus [dollar amount]" and not even care what the dollar amount of the full tuition was.

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