Improving math ed — Bush right about that, But where are the teachers coming from?

Jonathan David Farley:

In his State of the Union address in January, President Bush stressed the importance of improving math education. He proposed to “train 70,000 high school teachers to lead advanced placement courses in math and science, bring 30,000 math and science professionals to teach in classrooms, and give early help to students who struggle with math.”
But where will these teachers come from? And will the training of teachers be sufficient to increase the number of students choosing math and science careers? And why does all this matter?
Because mathematics is the foundation of the natural sciences. It is no coincidence that Isaac Newton, the man who formulated the law of gravitational attraction that revolutionized our understanding of the universe, was also the man who popularized the calculus. And the natural sciences, however pure, are what give us airplanes, cable TV and the Internet.
In the 2003 Program for International Student Assessment, a test that measures math literacy, American 15-year-olds performed worse than their peers in 23 countries, as well as those in Hong Kong. It’s not hard to see why. According to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 40 percent of the nation’s middle school math teachers do not have the equivalent of an undergraduate minor in math. The average starting salary of a teacher is only $30,000, whereas the average starting salary for a recent college graduate in computer science or engineering is $50,000.

Jonathan Farley is a professor in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at the University of the West Indies, Jamaica, and a CISAC science fellow.

One thought on “Improving math ed — Bush right about that, But where are the teachers coming from?”

  1. I have wondered where these teachers would come from every time some national figure touts such lofty goals as if they are some sort of real solution. Some of us went out and got certified in an area that was identified as a shortage area, and still can not find contract jobs in our local school district. There are so many positions that remain up in the air until the last second, it makes it hard to even know if it worth applying, or if the district will end up shuttling in teachers already in the system but out of their old position into the few new ones.
    And that doesn’t even begin to address the issue of the cost of higher education to get all those majors and minors in math and science, as well as all the education courses to get certified – especially when compared to the relatively low salaries received as a new techer. Many people find that annual gross salaries far below their total school loan debt (as low as half of their school debt, depending on how long it took to get the degree), if they can find a job in another area, they almost have to take it, just to pay off debts. The high cost of the higher education is not only a problem at private schools or with out-of-state tuition at public universities. For example, special education certfication is often only available as a graduate-level program these days, and graduate credits in education are barely les expensive per credit at U-W Madison as a resident, than they are at Edgewood, a private liberal arts college with graduate programs in education (and business and nursing, by the way).
    IN addition, licensure in some high-need areas such as ESL or bilingual education is only possible as a second license on top of a core license in another more traditional area. No one goes into these fields for the money. And many find they cannot afford to stay in these fields, even purely for financial reasons.

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