Wednesday, December 10, 2008

math teacher supply and demand

The Center for the Future of Teaching & Learning released a report today about the status of California's teachers, comparing statistics of teacher credentials, experience, and student performance. The study makes several points; for mathskool, I found it most interesting that around one third of California's middle school algebra teachers are considered "underprepared", meaning that they either lack experience (<= 2 years) or that they do not possess full credentials to teach math (see appendix B of the full report - link below - for more details on what counts as "underprepared").

The downward trend in this graph is nice, but having 1/3rd of our students taught middle school math by underprepared teachers sounds a bit scary.

I hate to see hard-working teachers faced with labels that might be considered as demeaning their efforts. Every teacher has to start off as a newbie - this can't count against them. And I believe that every teacher genuinely wants to provide the best education possible for their students, regardless of their credential level.

There are some constructive lessons we can learn from this data. It seems clear that we need more teachers than are available. Relating this to the TIMMS report, it comes to mind that Asian cultures generally hold teachers in much higher regard than we do our American educators. As a graduate student in mathematics, I strongly felt pressure to avoid educational positions, as these are viewed as a "way out" of doing "real math" -- at least, that is the perception I had. And the percentage of our national budget which is allocated to education is a fraction of that we spend on defense. All of this adds up to a discouraging environment for potential future educators. If you're good at something, why teach it for less respect and less money, when you can have a better life working in industry, or at least in higher education (college or other research-friendly places) ?

I don't think there is a silver bullet toward improving the state of our education system, but I do believe that a general agreement in attitude among a strong community of educators can be the start of a better system - especially with a little political support. It is my hope that mathskool can play a role in empowering such a teacher community, by giving great, experienced teachers a stronger voice, new teachers a source of guidance, and our students an effective new resource for learning which is at once easy-to-use, non-intimidating, and responsive to their feedback and desire to understand.

Information on the report:


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