Crunching the Numbers

In a new report on elementary teacher preparation, the National Council on Teacher Quality finds that only 10 of 77 schools surveyed did an “adequate” job of preparing aspiring math teachers. Low expectations and standards, inconsistent guidance, insufficient grounding in algebra, and a nationwide inability to agree on what math teachers should know is effectively crippling elementary math teacher preparation, the study found.

The few schools that manage to transcend these problems deserve special mention. They are: the University of Georgia, Boston College, Indiana University at Bloomington, Lourdes College, University of Louisiana at Monroe, University of Maryland at College Park, University of Michigan, University of Montana, University of New Mexico, and Western Oregon University.

Special praise was reserved for the University of Georgia, one of the institutions studied in ACTA’s recent report, Shining the Light, for requiring math of all its graduates, not just aspiring teachers. Georgia’s program was deemed “exemplary” for requiring teachers-in-training to take at least two college-level math courses, three courses specifically on the material covered in elementary math, and two method-based courses on how to make mathematical concepts accessible to children.

Well worth reading, No Common Denominator: The Preparation of Elementary Teachers in Mathematics by America’s Education Schools is a major wakeup call: “We simply must begin to appreciate the critical importance of elementary teachers gaining the knowledge and skills they need to effectively teach mathematics,” said Kate Walsh, president of the teacher quality council. “It is what our children need in order to keep up with their peers around the world – and what our country needs in order to produce a skilled workforce that can compete in today’s global economy.”

The same can be said for college graduates generally – a point ACTA made in praising the University of Georgia system for its current strong general education requirements in composition, math, and science. Rather than diluting these requirements, as some have recently proposed, Georgia can set a standard for demanding the kind of rigorous education citizens will need to compete in a global society.

Anne Neal

Anne Neal

Anne Neal is the president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.

One thought on “Crunching the Numbers”

  1. Add the University of Washington’s School of Education to the totally clueless, or at least that was its status when a friend of mine got a degree there in the late 1980s.
    Her program didn’t offer much course work in math, and that’s why I was totally confounded with what they were teaching: conversion between number base systems such as base-7, which only has numbers between 0 and 6 and base 10 (our system).
    What value is that, I asked myself? The only people who do conversions between base numbers are the occasional computer programmer, who sometimes needs to work in base-2, and he will use a programmer’s calculator. Of all the things to teach an aspiring middle-school teacher, this was the absolute worst.
    In the end, I concluded that this instruction was a result of a double incompetence. The education professors who taught math were so clueless about math, they didn’t know what was valuable (such as algebra) and what was worthless (number systems). The only rationale for teaching it was that number conversion is a simple rote process, somewhat like long division. Neither the teacher nor the students need to be very clever to learn it.
    It was a chilling experience. In my mind I saw hundreds of teachers graduating each year from the University of Washington, teachers who would force pointless busy work like base conversion on their unfortunate students, giving them a life-long hatred of math.
    –Michael W. Perry, Untangling Tolkien

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *