Teacher Education Matters: A Study of Middle School Mathematics Teacher Preparation in Six Countries
reviewed by Marina Milner-Bolotin - April 18, 2011
Title: Teacher Education Matters: A Study of Middle School Mathematics Teacher Preparation in Six Countries
Author(s): William H. Schmidt, Sigrid Bloemeke, and Maria Teresa Tatto
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807751626, Pages: 352, Year: 2011
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In recent decades there have been a number of large internationally influential studies of student mathematics and science performance (Lemke et al., 2001; National Center for Education Statistics, 2011; Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2006; TIMSS and PIRLS International Study Center, 2011). These studies allowed for unprecedented international comparisons of student achievement in the fields of science and mathematics, which in turn spurred a thorough re-examination of K-12 mathematics and science education by the countries involved. However, as far as I know, there has been no comparable international study that allowed science and mathematics educators to examine how science and mathematics teachers are being prepared in different countries. Teacher Education Matters: A Study of Middle School Mathematics Teacher Preparation in Six Countries is a book describing such a study. This book thus provides a significant contribution to our attempt to re-examine and improve preparation of pre-service mathematics and science teachers. The author team made a deliberate choice to focus on middle school mathematics pre-service and in-service teachers and their preparation, as middle school mathematics is the foundation for students success in high school and university mathematics, engineering, and science studies. The choice of the six countries was also well thought of (Bulgaria, Germany, Mexico, South Korea, Taiwan, and the United States), as the students in these countries performed very differently on the international comparative studies mentioned above. Moreover, focusing on teacher preparation should allow educators to understand the cause for these differences and make recommendations for improvements. The mixed methods design (a combination of quantitative and qualitative research methods) allowed the author team not only to highlight the differences in middle school mathematics teacher preparation and in the teaching context, but also to put a human face on them.
The book consists of 12 chapters that reflect different aspects of teacher preparation. In the first two chapters, the readers are invited to take a closer look at the context of middle school mathematics teaching in the six countries chosen for the study. Meeting the real middle school mathematics teachers (Chapter 1) and taking a closer look at the educational system in these countries (Chapter 2) prepares the readers for a deeper examination of mathematics teacher preparation in respective countries. Chapter 3 discusses the theoretical framework and the design of the study. In the following four chapters the readers are provided with detailed analysis that compares different aspects of teacher preparation, such as the structure and course requirements of various teacher preparation programs (Chapter 4); the way future teachers formal knowledge of mathematics, mathematics pedagogy (Chapter 5) and their general pedagogical knowledge (Chapter 6) are built and assessed. Future teachers beliefs about teaching and learning of mathematics as well as their epistemological beliefs about the nature of mathematics are discussed in Chapter 7.
Comparative large scale educational studies allow a critical examination of the practices that could not have been possible within a single country. As it is clearly shown in Chapter 8, the classroom practices, expectations from teachers, instructional organization, and activities vary drastically among the countries. Some of these differences are reflected in teacher preparation and in the consequent results of student performance on international mathematics tests. The cohort comparisons at both the institutional and country levels, discussed in Chapter 9, examine the pedagogical evolution of future mathematics teachers during their teacher preparation studies. These comparisons also illuminate significant differences in the entry level and in the outcomes of professional preparation of future mathematics teachers across the countries. This should not be surprising considering the results of the international studies that compared student performance mentioned above. Chapter 10 considers the opportunities to learn during the teacher preparation programs. These also vary significantly among the countries included in the study.
The penultimate chapter of the book (Chapter 11) considers the cost of teacher preparation in different countries. The countries included in the study have different economic potential, yet their investment in educating future teachers has not only economic but also cultural and societal roots. As it becomes apparent from the study, the recruitment of future mathematics teachers is affected by the economic and social status the teaching profession has in a respective country, as well as by the opportunities available to bright mathematics students outside of the teaching profession. Not surprisingly, these also vary greatly among the countries surveyed.
The book ends with a final discussion of the results and provides some additional questions for further study. As it is indicated by the authors, the samples used in the study are not entirely random, thus the results of the study should not be overgeneralized. Yet, it appears that there are three interrelated constructs that must be taken into account in the context of future teacher preparation. Firstly, the quality of the students who are recruited in the teaching profession: those countries where the future teachers are recruited from the high-end of the mathematics achievement distribution (Taiwan, South Korea and Germany) in general produce higher quality teachers. Secondly, the economic and social status of the teaching profession has a direct impact on recruitment: those countries where teaching is valued and well-regarded have higher quality teachers. And thirdly, the structure and organization of the school system can promote or hinder the quality of mathematics teaching.
The book is well written and has clear, well-defined claims supported by extensive and well-presented quantitative and qualitative data. Every chapter has a brief summary, providing some answers to the initial questions, as well as raising new questions that stemmed from the investigation. The only thing that I found missing in the study would be more specific recommendations for action. This study will hopefully become an impetus for more research dealing with the political, social, and economic implications of this research. The results of the study should end up on the desks of policy makers, as well as mathematics and science educators.
As a science and mathematics teacher educator, I found the book informative, illuminating, and very important. I would strongly recommend it to any teacher educator, mathematics or science teacher, a school administrator, a policy maker or an education faculty member teaching courses on research methods and large scale evaluation and assessment. I am looking forward to reading the results of the follow-up studies.
Lemke, M., Calsyn, C., Lippman, L., Jocelyn, L., Kastberg, D., Y. Liu, et al. (2001). Outcomes of learning: Results from the 2000 program for international student assessment of 15-year-olds in reading, mathematics, and science literacy. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.
National Center for Education Statistics. (2011). Trends in international mathematics and science study. Washington DC: National Center for Education Statistics.
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. (2006). Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).
TIMSS and PIRLS International Study Center. (2011). TIMSS and PIRLS. Retrieved April 20, 2011, from http://timss.bc.edu/