Wednesday, February 20, 2008

New Programs to Help Middle-School Teachers with Algebra

"Mathematics Teaching in the 21st Century" (PDF), a recent study funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and conducted by Michigan State University (MSU), claims that too often, middle school teachers aren't prepared to teach algebra. Three different surveys are summarized in the report: a Teacher Preparation Institution (Program) survey, a survey for Future Teachers of Middle School Mathematics, and brief faculty surveys. The news is not good:
"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 in the future," said William Schmidt, an MSU distinguished professor and director of the study.

In comparison with other countries in the study, future teachers in the United States ranked from the middle to the bottom on measures of mathematics knowledge.

"What’s most disturbing is that one of the areas in which U.S. future teachers tend to do the worst is algebra, and algebra is the heart of middle school math," Schmidt said. "When future teachers in the study were asked about opportunities to learn about the practical aspects of teaching mathematics, again, we rank mediocre at best."

Laura Devaney, associate editor of eSchool News, outlines several math programs created by education companies for elementary and middle school students to help this disturbing trend but the most exciting effort has been spearheaded by the nonprofit National Math and Science Initiative. NMSI has offered grants worth up to $2.4 million each to several U.S. universities to help them set up programs modeled after UTeach, a teacher-preparation program at the University of Texas at Austin. In UTeach, students majoring in math and science earn teaching certifications, financial incentives and early classroom experiences to draw, and hopefully keep, talented people in K-12 classrooms. The program acknowledges that talented teachers are needed to support and train future users and innovators of technology:

"The UTeach program invests in the teachers of those who will become future leaders in key technology industries critical to the development and competitiveness of the United States," said Tom Luce, chief executive of the National Math and Science Initiative. "As society demands more and more technological advancements, investments in those who teach in math, science, and technology become critical for continuous success and long-term growth."

The apparent strength of programs like UTeach is not just in the value placed on developing the math and science skills of elementary and middle school students but also in the value placed on those who teach those skills, something that often seems missing in the scramble over standardized test scores and school rankings.

SOURCE: "Schools aim to solve huge math problem" 02/12/08
photo courtesy of Stefan Heinemann, used under this Creative Commons license

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