A recent article in Education Weekpresents a bleak outlook for students with poor math ability. According to new research, “Students struggling the most in mathematics at the start of high school have the worst odds of getting a qualified teacher in the subject.” Statistics indicate that students who do poorly in math in the eighth and ninth grades are more likely than their classmates to quit school.
Two studies presented at the March meeting of the Association for Education Finance and Policy indicated that students who performed poorly in math were less likely to receive instruction by qualified math teachers than their more able counterparts. The definition of a qualified math teacher is one who has earned “at least a bachelor’s degree, with seven or more different courses taken in mathematics; was certified by the state to teach high school math; and had been teaching at least five years.”
Cara Jackson, a research assistant at the University of Maryland College Park, conducted research that demonstrated that high and low achieving schools assign classes differently: High performing schools may well assign special needs and low performing students to their qualified teachers instead of to high achieving students. However, in low-performance schools, the opposite is true. ”In the wealthiest fifth of schools, according to Ms. Jackson’s analysis, 54 percent of 9th grade students had access to qualified math teachers, while only 46 percent of students in the poorest 20 percent of schools did.” These statistics appear bleak under both conditions. Why are percentages hovering around the 50% mark for students in general?
The situation worsens further with schools in poor areas. “At schools with more than 70 percent of their students in poverty, the researchers found, teachers were, on average, less effective than those at schools with less concentrated poverty.” These teachers did not improve professionally when compared to teachers in wealthier districts. Before schools can improve the quality of their students, they must improve the quality of their teachers! Teachers must master the subjects they teach. Standards need to improve, and certification requirements need to change.