Math for America’s Jim Simons on his formula for improving math education

One of the world’s richest men, Jim Simons is worth an estimated $10.6 billion. A former mathematician, Simons is the founder of Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund that uses complex mathematical models to manage its assets.The U.S. is currently ranked 48th in the world in the quality of its math and science education, and Simons believes that the problem is a dearth of qualified high school teachers. Simons talks to Jon Meacham about Math for America, his non-profit organization that recruits talented math teachers and pays them not to leave the classroom for a bigger paycheck. The program also pays its teaching fellows the cost of their masters’ degrees.

“I want to make the job sufficiently attractive so that at least it is an alternative,” Simons said. Today, 85 percent of Math for America fellows are still teaching after five years, compared to a national average of only about 50 percent.

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  • Anonymous

    Nice to see Simons is giving back some of his ill-gotten hedge fund gains to society.

  • husmonk

    We certainly need good teachers in math, as in any other field. However, we first need to discuss the meaning of “good”ness and also what math (as well as any other field; actually learning itself) really is. For example, we need to discuss more about learning math and science in context (e.g.,,

  • Junebugnbulldog

    What makes you accuse him of ill gotten gains? Facts?

  • Jesse_henderson

    Thank you Mr. Simons. Escalante would be happy to see your efforts. 48th does not give me confidence. The future is ours if we apply ourselves.

  • Oswego

    Just because one knows math does not mean one knows how to TEACH math. Noble idea to be sure. Mr Simons is showing a lack of understanding by saying we simply need better, more knowledgeable people in the classes. It needs to be defined. What is better and more knowledgeable? Quantifying that is THE problem in education. Quantifying that has never been done because the variables are too great. Typical mathematician, forgot the human element involved in the process.

  • Galois

    Of course there is a human element to this process, but you cannot deny the fact that one needs to know and fully understand the subject in order to teach it. If you don’t have a clear grasp and in depth knowledge of the concepts, how can you hope to explain them to a classroom full of neophytes? A good way to quantify it is to follow these students into college and see how they fare there in that more rigorous curriculum. Many of these students fail their college courses, mainly because they thought that they knew how to solve the problem, when in fact they really need to know the concepts that are required to solve the problem.

  • Norman

    Yes, knowing mathematics does not make one a good teacher, however, it is impossible to be a good teacher of mathematics without first knowing mathematics. I believe this (the requirement that one be further advanced in knowledge of the subject than what one is trying to teach) to be true of all disciplines but often more readily apparent in mathematics. I think this is especially true of mathematics because it easier for a talented student to make leaps to advanced ideas in mathematics and such leaps should be encouraged and welcomed but if the teacher is incapable of recognizing them, how can they encourage them?

  • guest

    A person may be a scholar coming from an Ivy League School with a PhD but he or she may not be a good teacher. Whereas a person with a simple undergraduate or a graduate degree in Mathematics may be very knowledgeable in teaching the simple methods involved in understanding the concept of Mathematics. That is the fundamental difference. Many American students at high school level are very poor in Mathematics. That is because (some of the educated parents feel) the teachers do not teach Mathematics properly. Teachers spend more time on Entertainment, Sports, Community Activities, etc.. but spend very little time for exploring Mathematics. That is another reason why many of the high school students from Public Schools are not doing well in Mathematics and Science. Many parents feel that the high school teaching credentials in LAUSD are not adequate to teach Mathematics. They do some kind of paperwork but it does not really meet the teaching skills required to teach Mathematics.
    But that is only in Los Angeles County. Students coming from Orange County and other places in Northern California are scoring high on their SATs and AP exams and performing better than those studying in Los Angeles. I don’t understand why there is a gap. Something is not right here.

  • boston

    That is exactly the problem he is trying to fix. Most HS math teachers do not have an undergraduate or graduate degree in mathematics. Moreover, the ones who do often leave the profession after a few years due to little support and the bureaucratic mess that is public education. By recruiting qualified individuals, training them in accredited teaching programs, and providing them with support in their early teaching years, he is aiming to develop a corps of highly effective math teachers. No one is suggesting we need a slew of PhDs to teach our high schoolers.

  • Anonymous

    It’s not really about Simons personally, but the hedge fund industry.

    They don’t provide anything significant of value. Why should they claim such an outsized share of society’s productivity? Generally their profits come from derivatives, which are side bets on the movement of an underlying asset. They are really “investments,” because they don’t involve the purchase of an asset. They’re really just a variation of futures trading, and all futures trading is inherently speculation.

    With the massive leveraging hedge funds engage in, they create huge risk for the economy and society in general. Many of them are too-big-to-fail and get bailouts when they make mistakes. This happened when LTCM failed in 1998, and many observers think that another, bigger collapse occurred in 2005, and that central banks around the world carried out a stealth bailout, pumping money they created on the spot into the system to stave off a worldwide financial meltdown.

    Hedge funds also are so big that they can influence their own bets. They have enough resources, if not outright then via leveraging, to create market momentum until mass program sales kick in, at which point they make a killing.

    They’ve also bought off the political system to the point where the lucrative fees (adding up to many billions across the industry) they charge investors are taxed at the 15% long-term capital gains rate instead of as ordinary income.

    Sad to say, but the hedge fund industry is a cesspool. Look at the case of John Paulson: He conspired with Goldman Sachs to create a fund of junk mortgage securities, tout it to patsies, then make a killing when it tanked as planned. He got $1 billion out of that con. Why is he still walking the streets and not behind bars? Quite the contrary, he’s thriving, and reported $4.9 billion in income for 2010. Does anyone really earn $4.9 billion in a year, or even $1 million? Especially anyone in the financial industry? The whole sector (not just the hedge funds) are middlemen and speculators, not producers.

    The hedge funds and their managers are parasites, essentially. That’s where I’m coming from.

  • Anonymous

    I’d also like to add that many of our best mathematicians, our PhD’s from top-flight programs, are being lured into the hedge fund industry, where their talents are wasted on skimming ever more wealth from society rather than solving the many problems we confront.

    According to a number of historians (including Scott Patterson, author of “The Quants”), when the Cold War ended, many mathematicians employed by the defense and security industries migrated to Wall St., where they helped develop a number of the “innovations” used by the hedge fund industry to fleece the rest of us.

    Is this the best use of our brain trust?

  • guest

    It is true that money is not the only thing in life but without it, nothing moves in this world.
    Mr. Simons is not an exception. And there is nothing wrong in doing business to make more money. Even Kronecker Delta was a businessman himself and made lot of money before he started writing books on Mathematical Analysis about Measure Theory. We should thank Jim Simons and Bill Gates for their entrepreneurial skills and philanthropical efforts. I think successful businessmen such as Jim Simons and Bill Gates should spend a little on the Development of Mathematics, Science, and Technology. Others will also follow as the saying goes when one hand washes the other, both get clean. Similarly teachers, present senior teachers as well as the ones retired, should also open up special Mathematical Foundation and Merit Scholarships to those students who excel in Mathematics. This is an eye opener.
    We should really appreciate Mr. Jim Simons efforts to improve Mathematics in schools.

  • Anonymous

    There IS something wrong when you’re in business make nothing BUT money, and that’s the case with the hedge fund industry. I thank Jim Simons for his philanthropic efforts but not his entrepreneurial activities that involved giving nothing, only taking.