During his invited talk at the American Physical Society meeting in Atlanta on Sunday, Georgia State University Economics Professor Tim Sass pointed out that the “modal major of the first bachelor’s degree” (that is, the most common first major) of middle school math teachers in Florida who came through a traditional teacher education program is…(wait for it)…elementary education. This result is published in Tim’s report, “Certification Requirements and Teacher Quality: A Comparison of Alternate Routes to Teaching“, published by the CALDER Center. Take a look at Table 3 on Page 23.
Think alternative certification pathways are better at attracting teachers who are stronger mathematically? Think again. The most common first major among middle school math teachers who came to the profession through a “district alternative certification program” is criminal justice. For those who came to middle school math teaching from “education preparation institutes” based at Florida’s postsecondary institutions, the most common major is business administration.
This all brings to mind the paper in Science on middle school math teaching published by researchers at Michigan State University last year. After decrying the lack of math ability among future middle school math teachers in traditional programs, they conclude,
…the solution for the United States lies in a combination of recruiting those who have strong quantitative backgrounds together with a greater emphasis on rigorous mathematics in teacher preparation. The latter needs to be driven by tougher middle school mathematics teacher certification requirements, which are set by state policy.
Perhaps it is time to consider something like a “Common Core” for teacher preparation, to provide more rigorous, demanding, internationally benchmarked preparation standards for mathematics teachers. This effort might be led by the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the same two groups responsible for the Common Core State Standards Initiative. A long-term and better solution is to break the cycle of mediocrity in which we find ourselves.
With middle school students taking Algebra 1, Geometry and even occasionally Algebra 2 in middle school, it’s clear that the present strategies we are using to recruit middle school math teachers are perpetuating the “cycle of mediocrity”.