School & District Management

Some Sobering News on Math Education

By Erik W. Robelen — April 19, 2010 2 min read
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I wanted to draw your attention to two new studies on math education my colleague Debbie Viadero has just written about, one focused on the preparation of math teachers and the other on their ongoing professional development. Neither offers particularly encouraging news.

One report finds that future U.S. math teachers in the elementary and middle grades, on average, were in the middle of the pack when compared with those in 15 other nations, based on a new test designed to gauge their skills.

Debbie explains: “Among the world’s aspiring elementary teachers, the results show that American college students nearing the end of their teacher-preparation programs performed ‘neither particularly low, nor particularly strong.’ They scored at rates similar to those of future teachers in Germany, Norway, and Russia, but not on par with typically high-achieving countries such as Taiwan and Singapore.”

Meanwhile, the next generation of middle school math teachers performed slightly worse, landing on what the study calls “the divide between countries in which students usually do well on international math exams and those that don’t.” U.S. teachers-to-be outperformed their counterparts in Botswana, Chile, and the Republic of Georgia, for example, but trailed far behind the top-scoring Taiwanese teacher-preparation students, the story explains.

In another math-related story, Debbie says “first-year findings from a federal study of 77 middle schools suggest that even intensive, state-of-the-art efforts to boost teachers’ skills on the job may not lead to significant gains in student achievement right away.”

The study, “Middle School Mathematics Professional Development Impact Study,” released April 6, is the “second major experimental study by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences to find that a high-quality professional-development program failed to translate into any dramatic improvements in student learning,” Debbie’s story explains.

A two-year study of efforts to improve teachers’ instructional skills in early reading reached a similar conclusion in 2008, the story notes.

While I’m on the subject of math research, the federal Institute of Education Sciences recently awarded a four-year, $6.1 million grant to SEDL (formerly the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory) to study the effectiveness of McGraw-Hill Education’s Everyday Mathematics, a curriculum for students in pre-K through 6th grade.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.