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June 27, 2008

Failing marks for math teacher preparation

The National Council on Teacher Quality issued a report yesterday concluding that most of the nation's education colleges are not doing enough to prepare prospective elementary school teachers to teach math. The council studied entry and exit requirements, curriculum, textbooks and state licensing tests for 77 education colleges in 49 states. It found only 13 percent of the schools were giving teachers adequate math training.

Kate Walsh, president of the council, said in a statement: "As a nation, our dislike and discomfort with math is so endemic that we do not even find it troubling when elementary teachers admit to their own weakness in basic mathematics. Not only are our education schools not tackling these weaknesses, they accommodate them with low expectations and insufficient content."

But there's good news for Maryland: The University of Maryland at College Park is among the 10 schools where the council determined the math preparation was adequate. Towson University is one of five that the report said would pass muster with improved focus and textbooks. That's better than the 37 schools, among them American University, that were found to fail on all measures. Some schools, including Hampton University and University of Richmond, don't require prospective elementary teachers to take any math classes at all.

Think you're qualified to teach elementary school math? See how you do on this test that the council says all elementary math teachers should be able to pass. 

UPDATE, 6/30: See the comments for a rebuttal from the dean of Amerian University's education school, who says the report was not compiled responsibly.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:05 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region, Study, study!, Teaching
        

Comments

The report mentioned in this posting incorrectly represents the teacher education programs in the School of Education, Teaching and Health (SETH) at American University.

This report is particularly troubling, given that American University has four required mathematics courses in our elementary education program – as many as the highest reported. SETH has a strong, ongoing partnership with our department of mathematics and statistics, including a set of courses taught by mathematics faculty specifically for teachers. Our elementary education students consistently report that they feel very well prepared to help students not only delve into mathematical content, but also help children develop a love of mathematics.

All of our undergraduate Elementary Education (BA) majors have to fulfill the university mathematics requirement (at least one course in mathematics, determined by a placement test). Education students then take an additional 3 courses (9 credit hours) of math. The university requirement for all students includes, at minimum, Finite Mathematics.

The content area courses for all elementary mathematics students include the two-course sequence entitled Mathematics for Elementary School Teachers I and II. These courses address patterns, numbers and operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division), number theory, algebra, statistics and probability, geometry and integrating mathematics into art.

The elementary methods course for our undergraduate students is focused on the National Council of Teachers Mathematics standards. The principles of equity, curriculum, teaching, learning, assessment, and technology are the foundations of this course, and give students/teachers the ability to develop instructional materials and strategies to effectively teach the content they learned in the aforementioned course.

All elementary education teacher candidates must demonstrate mathematics content area knowledge via a content area assessment (Praxis 1) before entry and when they finish (Praxis 2). The cut-score for the Praxis 1 in the District of Columbia, which includes three different tests, reading, writing and mathematics, is among the highest in the nation. AU students cannot be admitted to our teacher education program without passing scores on this test. Candidates for elementary education degrees must also take two Praxis 2 examinations, one of which is the Elementary Education: Content Knowledge assessment, where again the District of Columbia has one of the highest cut scores in the country.

Furthermore, the authors never contacted our mathematics education faculty, nor do they seem to have correct information about our programs of study (the full report states in the methodology section that they contacted all the participants sometime between January and March 2007). Additionally, no one in AU’s School of Education, Teaching and Health was asked to send syllabi for any courses, nor were the number of courses correctly reported.

The National Center on Teacher Quality is an advocacy group, not an objective research organization and apparently used faulty data collection methodology in this report. This group has a well-recognized bias against traditional teacher education.

AU’s School of Education, Teaching and Health has provided and will continue to provide our students with not only extensive mathematics instruction, but with the training needed to be effective teachers in today’s global society.

Sarah Irvine Belson
Dean, School of Education, Teaching and Health
American University
Washington, D.C.

Dare I say it...the gloves, it seems, have come off! :)

I am interested in seeing what the NCTQ says in response to AU's response.

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