COMET • Vol. 11, No. 09 – 20 April 2010


(1) “Breaking the Cycle: An International Comparison of U.S. Mathematics Teacher Preparation”

Source: Michigan State University
URL: and 
URL (“Breaking the Cycle”):

The Teacher Education Study in Mathematics (TEDS-M: is an international study focusing on the preparation of teachers of mathematics at the elementary and middle school levels. In the United States, the focus has been extended to include future high school mathematics teachers. The research is a project of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA:, the agency that sponsors cross-national studies including the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS: TEDS-M builds on the results of TIMSS and breaks new ground as the first large-scale international study to examine how teachers are prepared to teach.

TEDS-M released its initial findings last Thursday in a document entitled, “Breaking the Cycle: An International Comparison of U.S. Mathematics Teacher Preparation,” which concluded that mathematics teachers in the United States need better training if the nation’s K-12 students are going to compete globally. (See to read the full report. The Executive Summary appears on pages 1-3 of the report.)

Future teachers near the end of their final year of teacher preparation were the focus of this study. Over 3300 future teachers in the United States and 23,244 future teachers across 16 countries were surveyed. Two different assessments were used to measure what future teachers know about mathematics: one for those who had been prepared to teach mathematics at the elementary level and another for those who trained to teach mathematics at the middle school level.

William Schmidt, University Distinguished Professor of education at Michigan State University and leader of the U.S. portion of the study, found that prospective U.S. elementary and middle school mathematics teachers are not as prepared as those from a number of other countries. And this, combined with a weak U.S. math curriculum, produces similarly weak student achievement, he said.

“We must break the cycle in which we find ourselves,” said Schmidt, who presented his findings at a news conference in Washington, D.C.

“A weak K-12 mathematics curriculum in the U.S., taught by teachers with an inadequate mathematics background, produces high school graduates who are at a disadvantage. When some of these students become future teachers and are not given a strong background in mathematics during teacher preparation, the cycle continues.”

More rigorous K-12 math standards, which are part of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, will be completed soon by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State Officers. The standards are expected to be adopted by a majority of the 48 states considering them. But the new standards will require U.S. math teachers to be even more knowledgeable, Schmidt said.

To attack the problem, Schmidt laid out a three-fold approach:

– Recruit teachers with stronger math backgrounds.
– Implement more rigorous state certification requirements for math teachers.
– Require more demanding math courses in all teacher preparation programs.

Schmidt studied the performance of 81 public and private colleges and universities. He said the real issue is how teachers are prepared–the courses they take and the experiences they have. The quality and type of programs in the United States varies widely by state and by institution.

The study revealed that differences in middle school teacher certification programs, for example, have a great impact on math-teaching capabilities. Future teachers prepared in programs focused on secondary schools (grades 6 and above) had significantly higher mathematics knowledge scores than those prepared in other types of programs, including those focused only on middle school teacher preparation.

“Teacher preparation curricula are critical, not only for our future teachers, but also for the children they will be teaching,” Schmidt said. “The problem isn’t simply the amount of formal math education our future teachers receive. It also involves studying the theoretical and practical aspects both of teaching mathematics and teaching in general.”

Excerpt from the Executive Summary:

“For middle school teachers, the top achieving countries on average allocated half of the course taking related specifically to teacher preparation to the study of formal mathematics. The other half was allocated to either mathematics pedagogy (30%)–which focuses on such things as how students learn mathematics and how it is best taught–or general pedagogy (20%) which includes instructional design, classroom management, and foundation courses related to schooling. By contrast, the average for the 81 U.S. institutions was 40% for the study of mathematics and 60% for the two pedagogy areas evenly split.

“This difference is best illustrated by the pattern of course taking associated with two fundamental mathematics courses which are the gateway to the study of formal mathematics–linear algebra and a basic two-course sequence in calculus. Such differences in course taking were found to be related to the knowledge of the future teacher as they left their teacher preparation institution.

“While those countries achieving at the top level had on average 90% of their future teachers taking these courses, in the United States about two-thirds of the future middle school mathematics teachers took linear algebra and only slightly more than half took the basic two-course sequence in calculus. Differences also existed in other areas of mathematics preparation such as the number of advanced mathematics courses taken–the six top-achieving countries took two more courses in this area.”

The U.S. study is funded by the General Electric Foundation, Boeing, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


(2) This Week’s Topic in The New York Times’ Mathematics Series is Integral Calculus

Source: The New York Times – 18 April 2010

Steven Strogatz, professor of applied mathematics at Cornell University, continues his weekly column on explaining mathematical concepts to a lay audience in Sunday’s issue of The New York Times. See below for the titles and key concepts of all articles in this series to date, and visit the Web site above for links to each of these articles:

“It Slices, It Dices” (4/18/2010): The integral, perhaps mathematics’ most graceful sign, is a foundation of calculus.

“Change We Can Believe In” (4/11/2010): Differential calculus can show you the best path from A to B, and Michael Jordan’s dunks can help explain why that is.

“Take it to the Limit” (4/4/2010): Archimedes recognized the power of the infinite, and in the process laid the groundwork for calculus.

“Power Tools” (3/28/2010): In math, the function of functions is to transform.

“Think Globally” (3/21/2010): Differential geometry can show us the shortest route between two points.

“Square Dancing” (3/14/2010): Geometry, intuition and the long road from Pythagoras to Einstein.

“Finding Your Roots” (3/7/2010): Complex numbers, a hybrid of the imaginary and the real, are the pinnacle of number systems.

“The Joy of X” (2/28/2010): The series moves on to high school math, specifically algebra and formulas.

“Division and Its Discontents” (2/21/2010): This week, division–where many students hit the mathematical wall–is made less confusing.

“The Enemy of My Enemy” (2/14/2010): The disturbing concept of subtraction, and how we deal with the fact that negative numbers are so…negative.

“Rock Groups” (2/7/2010): Treating numbers concretely–think rocks, for instance–can make calculations less baffling.

“From Fish to Infinity” (1/31/2010): A debut column on math features an introduction to numbers, from upsides (they’re efficient) to down (they’re ethereal).


(3) U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan Fields Questions from Teachers at Town Hall Meeting in Atlanta

URL (Video):

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan participated in an education Town Hall meeting in Atlanta, GA on Friday, fielding questions ranging from standardized testing to the cost of college from parents, teachers, and students. A transcript of this meeting is available at and a video is available at

The town hall meeting, “Fixing America’s Schools,” was hosted by CNN news anchor and reporter Don Lemon. The program was videotaped at Carver Early College High School.

At the meeting, a high school teacher expressed concern that “we are raising a nation of test-takers” and asked how the Administration’s proposals for improving the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (also known as No Child Left Behind) would address the situation.

One former Atlanta teacher in the audience wanted to know how to encourage educators to go “outside the box and be creative in their teaching so they can reach all needs of the students.”

“I think teachers are unsung heroes,” Secretary Duncan answered. “The vast majority of teachers do an extraordinary job and are working unbelievably hard. We need to do a much better job of supporting those teachers, mentoring them, providing meaningful professional development, meaningful career ladders.”

Excerpt from the transcript:

[STUDENT]: …I’m a junior here at Carver Early College. And I want to know if you feel that arts and music classes need to be eliminated.

DUNCAN: Absolutely not. They do not need to be eliminated… Dance, drama, art, music, chess, debate, academic decathlon–our students need a well-rounded education and we have to get back to that as a country.

What we have to understand is that great teaching, great instruction, leads to good results. I think there’s so much that we have gotten wrong with this. We’ve dummied down standards. It’s fill-in-the-bubble sheets.

And we need to think about, if you want a child to do better in math, you know what might help? More music. If you want a child to do better during the class day–how about more recess?…

I think we need much better assessments. We need to be assessing not just your ability to fill in a bubble sheet but your critical thinking skills. And I think we have a huge chance now to change that conversation with this massive investment we want to make and we have, again, state leaders really pushing very, very hard to have that next generation of assessments…

I’ve challenged schools of education. I think they need to do a much better job of preparing teachers to come into education. More practice, less theory, more hands-on experience. But we have to do a much, much better job of helping teachers be successful and rewarding excellence. That’s one thing that always amazes me in education. We’ve been scared to talk about excellence. Great teachers make a huge difference in students’ lives. Every kind of study shows three great teachers in a row and that average child will be a year and a half to two grade levels ahead. Three bad teachers in a row and they child will be so far behind they may never catch up. We need to recognize excellence; we need to reward it. We need to shine a spotlight on it. We need to clone those teachers, put them in leadership positions to help them share their knowledge. We have to stop being scared of talking about excellence…

I’m a big fan of supporting not just individuals but entire teams where you have high performing schools. Great teachers, great principals and also custodians, the security guards, also the lunch room attendants. Every adult in the building with high expectations…

We have a shortage of math and science teachers in this country. We’ve had that for a long time. I think where we have shortages in disadvantaged communities, inner city, urban and rural, we pay math and science teacher more money. Are we going to keep talking about the problems for the next two decades or are we going to fix it?…

Let me be clear. Teacher compensation should never be based on just one test score. That absolutely makes no sense whatsoever. Every child, gifted, average, special needs, whatever–every child can learn. Every child can be successful and I want to see students grow and gain. I want to see improvement. I want to focus on growth.

Children, when we give them opportunities, long-term support, guidance, great role models, great leadership, expect the best, every single child in this country can be successful.


(4) New AAUW Report: Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics

Source: The American Association of University Women (AAUW)
URL (Video/PPT):

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) recently released a comprehensive report examining the underrepresentation of women in STEM fields, particularly the physical sciences and engineering. Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics was funded in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Why So Few? summarizes eight key research findings that point to environmental and social barriers that continue to block women’s participation and progress in science, technology, engineering, and math. These include stereotypes and stereotype threat (e.g., female performance on STEM assessments is negatively impacted if participants are told that females aren’t as strong as males in the STEM areas tested, but not if they are told that there is no gender-related difference); lower confidence among females in their STEM abilities (especially starting in the middle grades, even though grades and enrollment in math and science courses is quite similar among middle/high school males and females); females’ inaccurate belief that STEM-related skills (e.g., spatial visualization ability) are immutable; gender bias; and the climate of science and engineering departments in colleges and universities. The report also includes current statistics on girls’ and women’s achievement and participation in these areas and offers new ideas for what can be done to more fully open scientific and engineering fields to girls and women.

A presentation on the report was held at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The presentation was followed by a panel discussion among invited experts on how to move this research to practice. Videos of the presentation and panel discussion can be viewed at

Visit to download the report.


Related articles:

(a) “Why Aren’t There More Women in STEM?” by Valerie Strauss
Source: The Washington Post

(b) “Female Teachers May Pass on Math Anxiety to Girls, Study Finds” by Karen Kaplan
Source: Los Angeles Times

(c) U.S. Women and Minority Scientists Discouraged from Pursuing STEM Careers, National Survey Shows
Source: Bayer Corporation


(5) State Trends Show Boys and Girls Performing Similarly in Math, But Boys Lagging Behind in Reading

Source: Center on Education Policy
URL (Report):

A recent study from the Center on Education Policy (CEP) that analyzes state assessment data by gender concludes that the lagging performance by boys in reading is the most pressing gender-gap issue facing our schools. In some states, the percentage of boys performing at proficient in reading is more than 10 percentage points below that of girls. And that trend is consistent at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, the study finds.

The study, State Test Score Trends Through 2007-08: Are There Differences in Achievement Between Boys and Girls?, analyzed trend lines that began in 2002, where available, and ended in 2008. Trend data were included only where at least three years of comparable test data for a particular subject, grade, and achievement level were available. The study includes data for all 50 states and is the fifth in a 2009-10 series of CEP reports on student achievement results.

In math, there was no significant gender gap in 2008. Rather, there was rough parity in the percentage of boys and girls reaching proficiency at all three grade levels, and no state had a difference in math between girls and boys of more than 10 percentage points. In grade 4 math, states tended to have greater shares of girls reaching the basic level and greater shares of boys reaching the advanced levels.

Looking at the results since the 2002 enactment of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) for both boys and girls at all three grade levels, more states had gains in reading and math proficiency between 2002 and 2008 than had declines. Across all states and grade spans, 84 percent of trend lines for male students showed an increase in performance on state reading tests. A similar trend was found for female performance on state math tests at 83 percent.

“Although the gaps–particularly in reading—are not nearly as large as those found between racial/ethnic and income subgroups, they are telling and have serious implications for the futures of all our students.” Jennings said. “The college attendance and completion rate for males continues to decline, and these data strongly suggest that those patterns could be altered with a greater focus on male reading skills at the earliest stages of education.”

The full national report as well as individual state profiles of achievement trends for males and females are available on CEP’s Web site:


(6) Expanding Your Horizons Network Receives 2010 National Science Board Award

Source: Expanding Your Horizons Network

Expanding Your Horizons (EYH) Network was recently named recipient of the prestigious 2010 National Science Board (NSB) Public Service Award as an organization that has made significant contributions and impact in public understanding of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The award ceremony will take place during the National Science Board’s Annual Awards Dinner at the U.S. Department of State in Washington D.C. on May 4, 2010.

“We are excited to honor the Expanding Your Horizons Network with the NSB Public Service Award in recognition of its decades-long commitment to the early development of interest in mathematics and science among young girls,” said Dr. Steven Beering, NSB Chairman. “We are thoroughly impressed with the Network’s impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of young women, having grown from a small grassroots activity to a nationwide organization.”

The NSB Public Service Award honors individuals and groups that have made substantial contributions to increasing public understanding of science and engineering in the United States. These contributions may be from a wide variety of areas including mass media, education and/or training programs, entertainment, and non-profit and for-profit corporations.

“The Expanding Your Horizons Network is honored to receive such a prestigious award from the National Science Board,” said Stacey Roberts-Ohr, Executive Director of EYH. “It’s wonderful to be recognized for the extensive work we do on behalf of young women and to be included in such an esteemed group of prior winners. It’s rewarding to know that we have helped hundreds of thousands of young women explore STEM careers. We are grateful to our partners who coordinate EYH conferences both in the United States and globally, and sincerely thank all of our terrific workshop leaders and volunteers.”

Past group recipients of the NSB Public Service Award include Bayer Corporation’s Making Science Make Sense program; Numb3rs, the CBS television drama series; the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation; and NOVA, the PBS television series.

Three additional award recipients will be honored on May 4 at the Awards Dinner: Bruce Alberts of the University of California, San Francisco, with the Vannevar Bush Award; Nalini Nadkarni of The Evergreen State College with the individual NSB Public Service Award; and Subhash Khot of New York University with the Alan T. Waterman Award.

About Expanding Your Horizons

The Expanding Your Horizons (EYH) Network is a non-profit organization dedicated to encouraging young women to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics careers. The EYH Network coordinates over 86 hands-on math and science conferences in 33 states, as well as Thailand, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Brussels and Geneva each year. These conferences nurture middle and high school girls’ interest in science and math courses, encouraging them to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Since 1976, 775,000 young women have participated in EYH conferences. For more information, visit