The Teacher Education and Development Study in Mathematics, or TEDS-M, is the first international comparison of mathematics teacher preparation. The six-year study was funded by a major grant from the National Science Foundation to Michigan State University, as well as by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) and by the participating countries.
The researchers collected data from representative national samples that included almost 500 higher education institutions in 17 countries that prepare primary and secondary school teachers. Approximately 22,000 future teachers were surveyed and tested, and 5,000 instructors were also surveyed. The complete set of data from the report is expected to be published soon on IEA’s website.
The differences between top and bottom scoring countries were very large, study director Maria Teresa Tatto said. Taiwan and Singapore performed considerably better than other countries in preparing math teachers. The findings suggest that this may be due to several key factors: future math teachers in these countries receive rigorous math instruction in high school; university teacher preparation programs are highly selective and demanding; and the teaching profession is attractive, with excellent pay, benefits and job security.
Countries that rely on teaching specialists in lower grades (Poland, Switzerland, and Germany) also did well. The United States generally finished below this group but above other countries that scored considerably below the international average, Tatto said.
TEDS-M provides strong evidence of the benefits of teacher-preparation programs at colleges and universities. "Some critics of teacher education believe you can bypass colleges of education and prepare teachers in an easier, faster way, but our study doesn’t support that," said Tatto.
"In Taiwan, for example, nobody graduates without the demonstrated ability to teach mathematics," she said. "Here in the United States, far too many of our graduates lack the knowledge of mathematics and how to teach it, which they will need as they begin to teach."
John Schwille, a researcher on the project and MSU education professor, said the results offer grounds for optimism about what can be done to improve teacher preparation and overcome a climate of skepticism.
The study, he added, is in part a response to the belief among many in the United States that teachers are "born and not made, so why are we wasting our time on university programs?" Critics argue that university-based teaching programs are costly and take longer than the alternative of just hiring talented liberal arts graduates and putting them more directly in classrooms. But this argument doesn’t hold up, Schwille said.
"There are some 'born’ teachers, sure, but not enough to fill the classrooms," he said. "So you’re going to have to prepare them. And the countries that do it best rely on university-based teacher education programs."
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