Thursday, June 26, 2008

NCTQ Report is Out

Today the National Council for Teacher Quality released a report entitled No Common Denominator: The Preparation of Elementary Teachers in Mathematics by America's Education Schools. In this study of elementary teacher preparation programs, the NCTQ examined 257 syllabi and required texts in 77 undergraduate education programs from across the country to determine whether the courses adequately prepare elementary teachers (K-5) to teach mathematics.

Only ten schools in the sample (a mere 13%) received passing marks in the evaluation of their overall quality of preparation in mathematics. Criteria used were relevance, breadth, and depth of preparation. Of the 77 institutions in the study, 37 (just under 50%) failed on all measures. My institution was one of them.

You can download the Executive Summary or the full report. Here are the major findings.
Finding 1 - Few education schools cover the mathematics content that elementary teachers need. In fact, the education schools in our sample are remarkable for having achieved little consensus about what teachers need. There is one unfortunate area of agreement: a widespread inattention to algebra.

Finding 2 - States contribute to the chaos. While most state education agencies issue guidelines for the mathematics preparation of elementary teachers, states do not appear to know what is needed.

Finding 3 - Most education schools use mathematics textbooks that are inadequate. The mathematics textbooks in the sample varied enormously in quality. Unfortunately, two-thirds of the courses use no textbook or a textbook that is inadequate in one or more of four critical areas of mathematics. Again, algebra is shortchanged, with no textbook providing the strongest possible support.

Finding 4 - Almost anyone can get in. Compared to the admissions standards found in other countries, American education schools set exceedingly low expectations for the mathematics knowledge that aspiring teachers must demonstrate.

Finding 5 - Almost anyone can get out. The standards used to determine successful completion of education schools’ elementary teacher preparation programs are essentially no different than the low standards used to enter those programs.

Finding 6 - The elementary mathematics in mathematics methods coursework is too often relegated to the sidelines. In particular, any practice teaching that may occur fails to emphasize the need to capably convey mathematics content to children.

Finding 7 - Too often, the person assigned to teach mathematics to elementary teacher candidates is not professionally equipped to do so. Commendably, most elementary content courses are taught within mathematics departments, although the issue of just who is best qualified and motivated to impart the content of elementary mathematics to teachers remains a conundrum.

Finding 8 - Almost anyone can do the work. Elementary mathematics courses are neither demanding in their content nor their expectations of students.
These are strong indictments, indeed. As someone who teaches at a small liberal arts institution (not a "school of education" - yes, I bristle when this language is applied in a blanket fashion and I apologize for that, but the world I live and work in is very different from the one where colleges and universities are large enough to support separate schools for the preparation of teachers), I'm very interested in hearing from my teacher readers out there regarding how you were prepared to teach math. Please, let's discuss.


  1. As a graduate from UR's teacher preparation program in 2006, I can without a doubt assert that I teach math the best of the four core subject areas. Many of the seasoned teachers at my school are amazed at the wealth of knowledge, materials, resources, and confidence I have when I teach math. I would like to know if the council actually has statistical evidence to dispute its claims about our math instruction at UR because based on the performance of my students on the SOLS last year (my first year teaching), 100% of them passed the 3rd grade SOL test in Math. No other class at my school earned a perfect pass rate in Math. Bear in mind, I teach at a school where the majority of students are on free or reduced lunch and teachers have very little parental support. In fact, my school was under academic review this past year as a result of low school wide testing averages - I am proud to say that the scores of the children in my room were well above the school's averages. As a first year teacher, I attributed my success to the education and preparation I received at UR. And as it is completely evident to everyone who is in the program, the heart and soul of the education department is Dr. Stohr! So to anyone who reads this report, please take the findings with a grain of salt. And if you have any questions about the instruction I received, let me know and I'll be happy to provide insight.

  2. It's been nearly 15 years since I graduated so I don't know how helpful my thoughts will be. I don't remember taking a single math course in the education department. I did have to take more specific general-education courses for education than I would have had simply for graduation. But, again, I don't remember it being too specific in math. Most of what I know about teaching math has been learned on the job and mostly because of my own fascination with it.

    My concern with laying this at the feet of teacher education programs is that we quickly begin to expect them to do everything. No program can completely prepare someone to be a teacher. There are too many things to learn and too many variations on them based on school, student age, etc. I'm sure that similar studies would be as concerned with content area knowledge in history and science. Elementary teachers need to have a broad range of knowledge, in many ways more so than middle school or high school teachers. To expect them to have in depth knowledge of each subject area is absurd. Once in a classroom at a specific grade level it is more reasonable to expect in depth knowledge, but not of everything that might be taught at any elementary school.

    There are better ways for schools of education to spend their time and energy.

  3. I was an alternatively certified teacher, so teacher prep experience was different; however, we had to meet the same state certification requirements as other teachers, we just didn't have any of the "extra" college-required ed courses. This meant that I took one math content course (number theory - great teacher, helped me learn to think through math operations, almost zero relevance to any math I've ever taught) and one alleged math methods course (we made "notebooks" full of ideas from the Internet). Sadly, when I saw the results of this study, I was NOT surprised, in light of my pitiful math preparation. However, I do question the wisdom of painting all ed programs with the same brush - obviously, there are many turning out great teachers - we should focus on what they (you) are doing well, rather than bemoaning the sorry state of teacher prep in general. *hops off soapbox*

    I am currently training elementary social studies teachers, and believe me, you could make this exact argument PLUS some for social studies preparation. :(

  4. As a 2002 graduate of UR's program, a teacher with 6 years experience, an accelerated math teacher, and having had 2 student teachers from one of the universities listed as having "the right stuff", I feel that I'm qualified to disagree with the findings in this study.

    I teach an accelerated 2nd grade math class, teaching both the 2nd and 3rd grade curriculum to prepare my students to next year take 4th grade math. This group of students is always a challenge, day in and day out, but I was chosen to teach the class by my Principal because of my experiences in teaching 4th grade, my expertise with challenging students, my patience, and my schooling at UR. Almost all the teachers at my school all attended the university where we get our student teachers (I've had 2). My principal saw me as a visionary and hands on teacher who could reach and accelerated students to higher levels.

    At UR in our Teaching Elementary Mathematics course, I learned across the curriculum K-5th strategies and methods in teaching math. All of which I use in the classroom, I still have my textbook kept right behind my desk next to my curriculum guides, and my notes and worksheets have provided for me to accelerate the class that I now teach.

    I have had 2 student teachers and will be having my 3rd student teacher in the fall. I’ve found that their program is incredibly intense but the students don’t have the experience with teaching math concepts, but have primarily focused on one or two skills in their course work.

    I’m sorry to see such a review of the University of Richmond’s education program but I can testify that I was amply prepared to begin teaching and owe my knowledge and love of teaching to you. You are an amazing teacher, adviser, mentor, and mother. Don’t let this get you down, remember “We cannot hold a torch to light another's path without brightening our own.” ~ Ben Sweetland, and my favorite that reminds me of you, “A master can tell you what he expects of you. A teacher, though, awakens your own expectations.” ~Patricia Neal. Thank you for awakening me to be all that I can be and molding me into the teacher that I am.