Teachers feel poorly prepared in math

Many teachers say they’re not well-prepared to teach math, according to an excerpt from a new book, Inequality for All, by William H. Schmidt and Curtis C. McKnight.

In first through third grade, teachers feel prepared to teach only grade-level math topics, a survey of Michigan and Ohio teachers found. In some districts, only half said they were ready for grade-level math. (My first husband said his sister became a second-grade teacher because she couldn’t do third-grade math. This, apparently, is not a joke.)

Upper elementary teachers were more confident, though only one fourth of teachers in one district said they were well prepared to teach decimals.

Only 50 to 60 percent of middle school teachers felt well prepared to teach math topics in Michigan and Ohio standards. Both states plan to introduce algebra topics in eighth grade, but only half the teachers are ready.

At the high school level, at least 75 percent of math teachers feel confident about teaching 60 percent of math topics. But they’re not ready to expand into new areas.

. . .  there is an increasingly strong push for the inclusion of probability and statistics in high school, as is found in the Common Core State Standards, yet less than half of the surveyed mathematics teachers felt well prepared to teach it. Teachers’ self-perceptions of their preparedness seem likely, if anything, to overestimate what they know and how well prepared they are rather than to underestimate it.

Elementary and middle school teachers typically didn’t study much math in college. Even in middle school, three out of four math teachers didn’t major or minor in math.

. . .  a very large percentage of middle school students were being taught increasingly more complex mathematics, as called for in the Michigan and Ohio state standards, by teachers who lacked a strong background in mathematics.

High school math teachers have a stronger math background, but almost a third didn’t major or minor in math.

When teachers were tested on math knowledge, those who’d studied less math in college did worse. Results confirmed “what the teachers told us when they said that they were not well prepared,” Schmidt and McKnight write.