This letter was posted, in August, 2009, to the RACE TO THE TOP comments section of the federal government website. (http://www-users.math.umd.edu/~jnd/RTTTPublicLetter.html)
Underlining is mine. Signatures have been removed to shorten the post. You can view them at the link above. It’s a who’s-who of math professionals.
RACE TO THE TOP AND K-12 MATHEMATICS EDUCATION:
A Letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
If a first grade teacher read at the fifth grade level, we’d be outraged. But what if she had only third or fourth grade mathematics skills and lacked the conceptual understanding needed for teaching mathematics? Unfortunately, this is the reality for all too many licensed K – 8 teachers in this country. According to a recent report by the National Council on Teacher Quality, the current training that prospective K-8 teachers receive in the vast majority of this country’s education schools assures that this appalling situation will continue unchanged.
We agree with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s statement: “… it is hard to teach what you don’t know. When we get to 6th, 7th, and 8th grades, we see a lot of students start to lose interest in math and science … because their teachers don’t know math and science”. For the United States to remain competitive, every part of K-12 mathematics education in this country must be strengthened: curriculum, textbooks, instruction, assessments, and, above all, the preparation and continuing professional development of those who teach mathematics and science, regardless of grade level and the kind of school in which they teach.
Teachers’ mathematical knowledge is particularly important in K-8, since students’ mathematical foundations are built there. The first priority must be rigorous mathematics courses for prospective teachers of elementary and middle school children, followed by state-approved licensing tests that fully assess their knowledge and conceptual understanding of elementary mathematics. We must radically upgrade the mathematical content of their professional development programs as well.
Recommendation 1. The United States Department of Education should fund only those states that present a plan to implement the recommendations of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel in mathematics courses or programs for prospective or current teachers of mathematics and science in K-8 and on their licensing (certification) tests. The rigorously researched Panel’s 2008 report advises that teacher preparation programs and licensing tests for all K-8 mathematics teachers should fully address the foundational topics in arithmetic (including fractions, decimals, and percents), geometry, measurement, and algebra that are spelled out in the Panel’s report. Middle school teachers should know more than teachers in early grades. Other professions have state licensing requirements, whose purpose is to protect the public from practitioners without entry-level knowledge and skills. Good grades from law school do not exempt aspiring lawyers from having to pass state bar exams. Clearly the education of K-12 students should be considered as important to safeguard as the interests of a lawyer’s clients.
What are needed are serious college mathematics courses. The Massachusetts Department of Education’s guidelines for the mathematical preparation of elementary and special education teachers are a step toward describing the content of such courses. The courses must cover the core material that we should expect teachers to know in order to prepare our children to compete successfully in the world economy and to help their students avoid remedial coursework if and when they enter college.
Recommendation 2. The programs funded by the U.S.D.E. should require instructors of the mathematics courses for aspiring or current K-8 mathematics and science teachers, coaches, and supervisors to hold a Ph.D. in mathematics or a mathematics-dependent field (or at least be closely supervised by someone holding such a degree). All prospective K-8 mathematics and science teachers, coaches, and supervisors should be required to pass a solid test on the core mathematical material (especially arithmetic) for licensing. Mathematics supervisors and coaches should be required to have at least the mathematics qualifications of those they supervise.
Recommendation 3. The U.S.D.E., as part of the provision in Title II of the Higher Education Act, should require each state to report publicly by institution the pass/fail rates for all prospective elementary and special education teachers on a mathematics licensure test as demanding as the 40-item test now required in Massachusetts. This recommendation is fully supported by the report of the National Council on Teacher Quality documenting the inadequate preparation in mathematics of future elementary school teachers in 67 of the 77 colleges/universities surveyed.
Recommendation 4. The states funded by the U.S.D.E. should be required to align the courses in mathematics pedagogy taken by prospective K-5 teachers with the new mathematics coursework, as outlined in Recommendation 1. Current methods courses too often focus only on demonstrating how to teach very low level mathematics content.
Recommendation 5. The U.S.D.E. should fund content-rich professional development programs for current K-8 mathematics and science teachers, coaches, and supervisors, and for elementary and middle school principals. It should not fund professional development programs that do not have a significant arithmetic component.
Close cooperation between teachers in the field, mathematicians having an active interest in K-12 mathematics education, and mathematics educators, together with the active help of government and the business community, can turn our mathematics outcomes around, but time is of the essence.
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2008). No common denominator: The preparation of elementary teachers in mathematics by America’s education schools. NCTQ: Washington, DC: www.nctq.org/p/publications/docs/nctq_ttmath_exec_summ_20090208042841.pdf
National Mathematics Advisory Panel. (2008). Foundations for Success: Final Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel. U.S. Department of Education: Washington, D.C. www.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/mathpanel/report/final-report.pdf
We, the undersigned, support this letter: (see link at top)