Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Teachers Get More Reading Training Than Math Training

I saw this post by Joanne Jacobs dealing with a story by Jay Greene and Catherine Shock, which appeared in City Journal, discussing more "multiculturalism than math" at leading education schools. The comments in Joanne's post veritably shredded the Greene and Shock piece, calling Greene a Wal-Mart Scholar etc.

But as I put in my comments, while there is a real concern about the emphasis of multiculturalism in education schools (as opposed to, I don't know, actually training teachers), there is something to Greene's assertion that not enough math is taught.

Greene and Shock studied the course offerings at various education schools. I thought the methodology a little suspect since offerings don't translate to graduation requirements as most of the courses are electives. So I decided to look at the education schools are three of Maryland's largest education schools, which provide a fair number of Maryland teachers, the University of Maryland College Park, Frostburg State University and Towson University. I looked only at the required "professional level" classes, i.e. those that are restricted to the major and did not include any "core curriculum" or "general education" classes that are required. Generally I looked at classes required in the final two years of college, but would expand the scope if I thought (in my sole discretion) that it was worth including. Similarly I looked only at early childhood education majors and elementary education majors for the simple reason that it is in elementary school where the fundamentals of math and reading are taught and that we as nation (for good or ill) have declared that such instruction is of paramount importance by testing for it in grades 3-8. Elementary education is generally thought of by these schools as up to grade 6.

Frostburg State University
  • Early Childhood Education Majors
    1. Process and Acquisition of Reading (3 credits)
    2. Reading Instruction (3 credits)
    3. Assessment for Reading Learning (3 Credits)
    4. Materials and Motivations for Reading (3 credits)
    5. Mathematics Curriculum, Methods and Assessment (3 credits)
  • Elementary Education Majors
    1. Process and Acquisition of Reading (3 credits)
    2. Reading Instruction (3 credits)
    3. Assessment for Reading Learning (3 Credits)
    4. Materials and Motivations for Reading (3 credits)
    5. Mathematics Curriculum, Methods and Assessment (3 credits)
    6. Specialization courses, which could include up to 24 credits of math subject matter, but that is an option for the student, not a requirement for more math
Outside of a student's option to specialize in math (specifically not called a Minor), there is a 3 to 1 ratio of reading instruction to math instruction for prospective teachers.

Towson University
  • Early Childhood Education Majors
    1. Foundations of Reading and Language Arts (3 Credits)
    2. Early Literacy: Best Practices and Materials (3 credits)
    3. Teaching Reading in the Primary Grades 1-3: Best Practies and Materials (3 credits)
    4. Principles and Practice of Reading and Language Arts (3 credits)
    5. Teaching Mathematics in Early Education (3 credits).
  • Elementary Education Majors
    1. Foundations in Reading and Language Arts (3 credits)
    2. Principles and Practice of Reading and Language Arts (3 credits)
    3. Foundations of Writing and Other Language Arts (3 credits)
    4. Language and Literacy Internship (3 credits)
    5. Principles and Practices of Assessment in Reading and Language Arts (3 credits)
    6. Teaching Mathematics in Elementary School (3 credits)
    7. Supervised Observation and Participation in Elementary School Mathematics (3 credits)
. Thus at Towson, Early Childhood education majors get four times as many credits of instruction in teaching reading than in teaching math. Elementary Education majors get 15 credits of reading instruction and only six of math instructional classes, a nearly 2.5 to 1 ratio.

University of Maryland-College Park
  • Early Childhood Education Majors
    1. Language Development and Reading Acquisition (3 credits)
    2. Reading in the Early Childhood Classroom I (3 credits)
    3. Reading in the Early Childhood Classroom II (3 credits)
    4. Assessment of Reading (3 credits)
    5. The Young Child as a Mathematician (3 credits)
    Elementary Education Majors (Word doc)
    1. Children's Literature (3 credits)
    2. Language Development and Reading Acquisition (3 credits)
    3. Materials for Readers (3 credits)
    4. Language Arts Methods (3 credits)
    5. Reading Methods (3 credits)
    6. Reading Diagnosis and Instruction (3 credits)
    7. Mathematics Methods (3 credits)
    8. Up to 18 credits of an "area of emphasis" which could include mathematics courses
At UMCP, there is a 3 to 1 ratio of reading to math instruction for early childhood education majors and a 6 to 1 ratio for elementary education majors who don't emphasize mathematics.

Admittedly I was a bit parochial in my school choices, given that I am a Marylander and my daughters attend or will attend Maryland schools. But I suspect that if we were to examine in greater detail the pre-professional and professional requirements of the top education schools that Greene and Shock examines, the analysis would not be all that different between those schools and Maryland colleges.

If we are to assume that we should place as much emphasis on elementary reading and math skills, then we are simply not preparing our teachers in even a close to balanced manner. The best ratio of instruction was 2.5 credits of reading instruction for every credit of math instruction for prospective teachers. Given the inadequate preparation of our teachers to teach math, is is any wonder why the fundamental basis of mathematics are lacking so that more advanced mathematics, such as algebra, geometry, trigonometry and calculus can't be taught to older students? Is this why we are failing to advance like other nations in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathemtaics (STEM)?

Granted, one does not need an advanced degree in math to teach addition, subtraction, multiplication, and disvision to third graders. But it does take as much understanding of how children come to learn math concepts as it does for prospective teachers to understand how childn acquire reading skills. Sometimes it can take just as much imagination to teach math as it does to teach reading.

Every year, in the age of NCLB, we are reminded how little our children are improving in math. Could it be that our nation's education schools are not preparing our teachers to teach math is a primary contributing factor to the relatively slow math improvement?

Instead of focusing on whether multiculturalism is to blame (and given some of the degree requirements for the above schools, the emphasis on the "social" side of teacher preparation is certainly not helping prepare our elementary teachers to teach math), we should instead take a good, hard, long look at whether or not we are giving our prospective teachers the necessary knowledge and skills to not only teach reading, but to also teach math and science as well.

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