Keeping up with. . . Botswana?

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Crunching the numbers on elementary and middle school teacher prep in math. . . From Botswana to the US--and 15 other countries in-between

Comparisons of other country's approaches to teacher preparation with our own can sometimes get a bit strained. Circumstances being so different, can we really learn from the example of paragons like Singapore or Finland?  Well--yes!  The Teacher Education and Development Study - Mathematics (TEDS-M), a painstakingly thorough study of the nuts-and-bolts of elementary and middle school math teacher prep across 17 countries, provides many helpful points of comparison and doesn't pull punches.  Here's a summary statement from a recent publication:

"[S]ome of the U.S. teacher preparation institutions on average produced future [middle school] teachers at a level commensurate with the level of performance of developing countries such as Botswana, but that other institutions within the United States have future teachers who...perform at a level that outperforms the average level of knowledge of the sole institution for the preparation of teachers in Singapore. Similar variation was also found at the elementary level."

Botswana, indeed!

Bill Schmidt, the man behind the TEDS-M, participated in NBC News fourth annual "Education Nation" Summit to present a paper on the study's findings.

Some highlights:

·  The top performing teacher prep programs internationally require a fairly standard set of math courses for middle and elementary school teachers.

·  Universally, what teacher candidates learn goes a long way to predict what they'll say when surveyed about their preparedness in the classroom.

·  Roughly three-fifths of U.S. middle school teacher candidates graduate from the bottom quarter of teacher prep programs and a disproportionate share are hired by schools with the neediest kids.

·  Almost half of elementary teacher candidates report that they have not taken the five math courses that make up the international benchmark courses for teachers. (number theory and probability at the university level, measurement and numbers at the school mathematics level--which NCTQ terms "elementary math content"--and math instruction).  

This research adds to the growing pile of evidence pointing to a need for reform in teacher prep to keep up with our international peers--and Botswana.