What you didn’t learn in Kindergarten:

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“How hard could it be to teach something I learned in 3rd grade?”

Surely this thought has crossed the mind of many elementary teacher candidates – and those running the programs that prepare them – as they consider how much training they’ll need to teach students who are still years away from even hearing the words “trigonometry” and “calculus.”

Unfortunately, like so many aspects of being an educator, teaching elementary math is far harder than it sounds. Research bears out that elementary and special education teacher candidates need extensive, well-designed coursework to confidently and competently teach math – so it’s not enough for teacher candidates to call forth hazy recollections of when they themselves were in elementary school. 

Teacher prep programs haven’t gotten this message. Only one in five prep programs come close to providing adequate coursework to address the 12 mathematics topics that need to be covered. This picture looks especially bleak in graduate programs where, due to the limited availability of course credits and time, math training seems to be one of the first areas cut. Less than two percent of graduate elementary and special education programs adequately address math topics.

What’s worse is that when programs do teach math, they often focus more on assuaging teacher candidates’ “math anxiety” rather than teaching them the content that will actually give them confidence in the classroom. Surely no program would accept a teacher candidate who believes, “I’m just never going to be good at reading,” and yet this attitude is accepted – and even expected – for math!

These results are clear: when it comes to preparation in elementary math, something just doesn’t add up.