It all adds up

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John Benson, the teacher who blogged for us yesterday, makes a compelling case for why deep understanding of math is so important for high school math teachers. But is this as big an issue for elementary teachers?

Bill Schmidt and his colleagues at Michigan State University have been taking a closer look at the relationship between what our elementary teachers know and how well our students do in math. From an international perspective, the typical math content preparation we provide to our elementary teachers is middling at best -- and so is their students' math performance on international assessments. Schmidt surveyed thousands of elementary teachers about how prepared they felt to teach 28 fundamental math topics such as fractions and decimals, two-dimensional geometry and representing data. Most did not feel well prepared to teach most of those topics.

It doesn't have to be this way. Teacher preparation programs can and should work with math departments to put together a coherent course sequence that addresses at a sophisticated level the most important topics in elementary math, the same ones covered in the Common Core State Standards. For our Common Core Elementary Math Standard, we have reviewers with expertise in math and math instruction carefully scrutinize the coverage of these topics in lectures, assignments and textbooks in required math courses for elementary teachers. 

When we publish the Review in a couple of weeks, we'll show that more than a few elementary programs are making sure that their candidates get the math knowledge they need. We hope they can lead the way in strengthening the field so that eventually all elementary teachers feel well prepared to teach all the topics their students need to master.