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University of Missouri

Solving the Math Teacher Equation

Will added training for teachers equal math success in students?

apples math

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By the start of high school, American students score below average in mathematics compared to the rest of the developed world, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Armed with a $2.3 million federal grant, a team of researchers in MU’s College of Education is studying a new approach to teacher training that could turn those numbers around.

“Improving our system starts at the elementary level,” says Barbara Reys, Curators Professor and Lois Knowles Faculty Fellow in the College of Education. Because math concepts build upon each other, “it’s more difficult to catch up in middle school, and the problem compounds in high school.”

To ensure that students get solid instruction early on, Missouri approved in 2012 an Elementary Mathematics Specialist certificate program, which launched in 2013. MU and four other Missouri schools are collaborating to offer the largely online, two-year program.

The training aims to increase teachers’ conceptual understanding of key mathematics concepts and improve their ability to explain them to children. The program’s first 65 teachers will graduate in summer 2015.

Reys, M Ed ’79, EdSp ’82, PhD ’85, leads the research team, which includes Professor James Tarr and assistant professors Corey Webel, M Ed ’05, and Nianbo Dong. They will track program graduates to discover whether their students’ scores improve compared to students whose teachers did not have the training.

The team will also look at how schools use the certified teachers. Some will return to their regular classrooms and teach every subject. Others will specialize, teaching math to several classrooms. The study will measure which approach is more successful.