Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Middle School teachers don't know how to do math

Our kids are falling further behind in math as they go through school.

Education Week writes about the problems that middle-school teachers are having understanding math.

This deficit explains two things:
1) Why teachers aren't doing a good job teaching math;

2) Why teachers don't have a good grasp of how to learn (and teach) concepts that are just beyond their reach. In other words, they don't know how to think. They don't know how to figure things out, or to teach kids how to figure things out. This deficit doesn't just apply to math, but to all the problems facing schools.

December 19, 2007

U.S. Middle-Grades Teachers Found Ill-Prepared in Math
By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo
Premium article access courtesy of

...The preparation of teachers to impart high-level mathematics skills at the middle and high school levels has been gaining attention as U.S. business leaders and policymakers express worries about the ability of schools to train a globally competitive workforce.

Now, in a study released this week, researchers are offering data on teacher education that hint at the extent of the problem...

William H. Schmidt, Michigan State University: “Our future teachers are getting weak training mathematically and are just not prepared to teach the demanding mathematics curriculum we need for middle schools if we hope to compete internationally,” said William H. Schmidt, a Michigan State University researcher who conducted the study.

Another international study, released this week by the American Institutes for Research, looks in part at the intersection between math achievement and science learning, which experts say suggests the broader importance of good math instruction.

In Mr. Schmidt’s study, U.S. teachers scored significantly lower than those in all countries except Mexico on knowledge tests in algebra and functions, which are considered critically important for teaching middle school math...

Moreover, teachers who pursue certification specific to middle school education, as opposed to elementary or secondary programs, are the least primed of all.

The study of U.S. performance on international science tests, by the Washington-based AIR, outlines successively lower rankings of U.S. students on international assessments as they age.

U.S. 4th graders, for example, were ranked higher among participating countries than U.S. 8th graders on the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study tests, while 15-year-olds were outperformed by even more countries on the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA.

“As the science becomes more mathematically inclined as students move to the physical sciences and chemistry, they are going to be at a disadvantage if they don’t have the math background,” said Steven Leinwand, an author of the AIR report...

Mr. Schmidt’s findings confirm the view that more math content, as such, is not the answer.

“There are people who advocate the view that all you need to do is find people who are trained in mathematics and put them in the classrooms, and they will be fine,” Mr. Schmidt said. “... It takes a knowledge not just of mathematics, but how you bring that mathematics to kids.”

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