$5000 per hour
What to make of the Jo Boaler affair
First, the facts. On April 1, Jelani Nelson, a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at Berkeley, California, tweeted about the proposed California Math Framework — a new school maths curriculum document:
Nelson is not a fan of the framework and neither am I. In this tweet, he highlighted two issues — the lack of black authors and the fact that one of the authors was paid $5000 per hour to work with a school district with a large minority population.
That author was Jo Boaler, a professor of mathematics education at Stanford, also in California. Nelson’s tweet linked to a series of tweets by a different Twitter user — @CheesemonkeySF. These tweets highlighted excerpts from public documents* held by Oxnard school district showing that Boaler was initially going to be paid just $20,000 for four two-hour sessions but when she clarified that the rate was $5000 per hour rather than per session, they revised this up to $40,000 as requested. The relevant document reads:
“Amendment #1 in the amount of $20,000.00, is required to correct a math/clerical error in the original agreement. The correct verbiage should read ‘Provide four (4) two-hour sessions at the rate of $5,000.00 per hour for a total of $40,000.’”
Another document, written on a Stanford letterhead, is signed by Boaler and specifies the original, “fee of $5,000 per session for a total of $20,000”. Oddly, Boaler requests the check is mailed to her home address rather than Stanford and the letter states that address.
The Stanford letter was originally posted further up @CheesemonkeySF’s thread — ie not in the tweet Nelson linked to — but has now rightly been removed for violating Twitter’s injunction against posting personal details such as home addresses.
On April 6, Nelson revealed that he had been contacted by Boaler:
In her email to Nelson, Boaler wrote:
“As a courtesy to a fellow faculty member I wanted to let you know that the sharing of private details about me on social media yesterday is now being taken up by police and lawyers. I was shocked to see that you are taking part in spreading misinformation and harassing me online.”
This then blew up on Twitter, with many commentating on the racially charged dynamic of a white woman in America calling the police on a black man who, by stating his opinion about publicly available evidence on an issue of public interest, had plainly done nothing wrong.
Since then, Boaler has issued a sort-of apology on Twitter and has spoken to the press about the affair.
In Boaler’s account, she never intended to give the impression she had alerted the police and lawyers to Nelson. Instead, she claims she referred the @CheesemonkeySF tweet that displayed her home address to the Stanford threat prevention office which includes lawyers and police.
So, what of the claim of spreading misinformation? In an article in SFGATE, Boaler suggests it is misinformation to state that she was paid $5000 per hour because that does not include preparation time. Boaler makes the extraordinary suggestion that we should assume 11 hours of preparation time per hour of presentation and then in an unfortunate turn of events, initially fails to accurately calculate a new hourly rate based on this 11-hour figure.
Oddly, Boaler draws on an answer by David S. Rose, ‘the pitch coach’, on Quora in order to justify the 11-hour figure. Does she not know how much time she spent preparing? Why not use the actual figure rather than an estimate based on what Rose of the internet reckons? It all seems very strange.
I don’t think I’ve ever spent 11 hours preparing a presentation and even if I did, I would then reuse much of it in future presentations, where relevant. As a teacher, I simply could not survive any other way. So, I am going to maintain the ‘$5000 per hour’ claim, not least because that is literally what is written in the public record.
With the facts out of the way, what are we to make of it all?
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