We’ve debated the controversial and now abandoned math reforms introduced by former state school chief Kathy Cox, which stumbled in part because teachers were not adequately trained. We’ve talked about whether the problem owes to what’s being taught or who’s teaching it
Here’s some fodder to further our debate. Education Week has an interesting piece on new research on math instruction and teacher assignments. Please read the full piece in Ed Week before commenting.
In many schools in the United States, students struggling the most in mathematics at the start of high school have the worst odds of getting a qualified teacher in the subject, new research finds. Succeeding in freshman-level mathematics is critical for students to stay on track to high school graduation, with students who make poor grades in math in 8th and 9th grades more likely to leave school entirely.
Yet two new studies presented at the Association for Education Finance and Policy meeting here last month suggest that students who enter high school performing below average in math have a lower chance of getting a teacher who is well-qualified to teach math than do higher-achieving students.
In one study, Cara Jackson, a research assistant at the University of Maryland College Park, analyzed the math course taking and achievement of 12,900 9th graders at 730 high schools nationwide who were linked with their high school math teachers as part of the federal High School Longitudinal Study of 2009. Ms. Jackson calculated the odds of different students’ learning math in 9th grade from a “qualified” teacher, defined as one who: had earned at least a bachelor’s degree, with seven or more different courses taken in mathematics; was certified by the state to teach high school math; and had been teaching at least five years.
Ms. Jackson found that in schools considered high-performing on the basis of state math and language arts test scores, students in special education and those enrolled in low-level math classes are slightly more likely to get a qualified teacher than students in higher-level math classes. By contrast, in average and low-performing schools, it is the reverse. In low-achieving schools, special education students and those in low-level math classes are a third less likely to have a qualified math teacher than their higher-achieving peers.
In 9th grade, Ms. Jackson found, high-performing math students in average or low-performing schools had about 10 percent “higher odds of getting a qualified math teacher, even after controlling for the level of math they are taking,” she said. “If you have limited resources, you might put your teachers with the strongest content knowledge with the students in the highest-level math classes,” Ms. Jackson said, adding, “or it might just be a way to reward your best teachers. But that certainly makes it harder for low-achieving students to catch up to their peers.”
Similarly, in a separate report, researchers from the American Institutes of Research’s Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, or CALDER, probed the differences in the value, as measured by assessment results, that teachers added at high-poverty and wealthy schools in Florida and North Carolina from 2000 to 2005.
At schools with more than 70 percent of their students in poverty, the researchers found, teachers were, on average, less effective than those at schools with less concentrated poverty. Specifically, while highly effective teachers performed at about the same level in both high- and low-poverty schools, there was a much greater range of effectiveness among lower-performing teachers in high-poverty schools than in richer ones. Teachers in high-poverty schools were also generally less likely to have a graduate degree, or to be certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog