Organization of Mathematics Teachers Urged To Set

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Toronto--Because of the growing shortage of mathematics teachers and widespread use of unqualified replacements, the president-elect of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (nctm) told members that their organization should act like other professional organizations--such as the American Medical Association--in monitoring the profession.

Stephen Willoughby, who is also chairman of New York University's department of mathematics education and a longtime leader in the field, urged the nctm to take steps to see that standards are maintained and said members should approach their congressmen and their state and local officials to draw attention to the problem of poor teacher-training.

The causes and consequences of the national shortage of mathematics teachers was a major topic at the 60th annual meeting of the nctm held here last week. Speakers asserted that mathematics teach-ers lack prestige and are held in low regard by a public that fails to realize the crucial importance of good mathematics teaching.

They argued that the status problem, combined with the "paltry salaries" offered in comparison to those found in industry--$11,200 for a beginning teacher in Georgia compared to $25,500 for a beginning engineer--has resulted in a shortage of teachers so severe that it jeopardizes the future of American technology.

Attracting Qualified Teachers

Formulating practical suggestions for attracting more qualified mathematics teachers to fill that gap was discussed in many of the 552 sessions attended by the 5,000 nctm members at the four-day meeting.

The teacher shortage, though recognized by educational specialists in the past two years, is daily getting worse, yet the general public couldn't care less, said Max Sobel, the organization's retiring president. With an overall reduction of 64 percent in the number of new mathematics teachers in recent years and shortages reported in all but three states, there is a greater shortage of teachers in mathematics than in any other subject area, said Mr. Sobel, who is a professor of mathematics education at Monclair (N.J.) State College.

He warned that instruction in mathematics is not keeping pace with the tidal wave of new technology. By 1985, he said, the electronics industry will need an estimated 200,000 trained people, and the projected supply is only 70,000.

"Other countries are getting ahead of us," he said. The Soviet Union and West Germany are producing more engineers than the U.S. "Japan, with half the population, is producing twice the number of engineers," he said. "In Russia, all high-school students take mathematics up to grade 12, whereas in some U.S. states, mathematics is required for only one or two years."

Quoting from a report by Isacc Wirzup of the University of Chicago to the National Science Foundation, Mr. Sobel said that five million Russian students take calculus in high school, compared to only 500,000 in the U.S. "We still develop technology, but other countries implement it," he observed. "I see the U.S. becoming a second rate power, losing its leadership in industry and military strength."

James Wilson, head of the department of mathematics at the University of Georgia and retiring editor of the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, blamed the erosion of public support for the decline of mathematics-teacher education, noting that a stringent financial situation and opportunities outside the field are leaving the profession at a low ebb, both in prestige and in numbers. He termed it an "insult" that the least able students (estimated as the lowest 10 percent of high-school mathematics students) are now the ones going on to become mathematics teachers.

Like other speakers, Mr. Wilson decried using teachers of other subjects to teach mathematics classes. These uncertified teachers hold 25 percent of the mathematics teaching positions, it is estimated. Even special "catch-up" programs, such as one in Philadelphia that offers 27 hours of instruction at seven neighboring universities to working teachers over a three-year period, fail to give the teachers adequate training, he said.

Several measures were proposed to remedy the shortage of qualified mathematics teachers. Mr. Willoughby and Mr. Sobel suggested the following:

A cash bonus for those in a specialty with a teacher shortage;

A "forgivable" loan covering up to one-tenth of the cost of each year of teacher training;

Joint appointments in schools and industry, with teachers working in industry during holiday periods. The experience should enhance their teaching ability, Mr. Willoughby said.

A 12-month salary to include a provision for either curriculum development or work in industry during the summer;

Tax breaks for former teachers who return from industry to the classroom; and

Insistence that mathematics teachers spend their working hours in the classroom, not in hall duty or supervising lunchrooms.

Vol. 01, Issue 31

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