Friday, October 24, 2014

Kentucky's Middle School Teachers Need More Math Training, Education Commissioner Says

Following Kentucky’s across-the-board embrace of Common Core in 2010, eight regional leadership networks were developed to scale up the work of teacher training - thanks to a KDE grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The leadership networks were multi-agency teams of K-12 and higher education professionals whose purpose was to provide the necessary teacher training for successful implementation of Common Core. Everybody cooperated. Faculty members from UK, U of L, Eastern, Northern, Western, Morehead, and Murray attended the state-designed trainings, and returned home to train the teachers in their regions along with the teacher education candidates in their universities. This also caused universities to realign the curriculum within their teacher education courses to assure proper instruction of future teachers. The effort was meant to build the capacity in every Kentucky teacher to refine new learning into more powerful lessons and assessments. 

So it was a bit shocking to those stalwart soldiers at the local level to hear that Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday’s told WFPL radio, this week, that middle and elementary school teachers have not received adequate training in their university's preparation programs. “This is something we’re finding pretty persistent across the commonwealth,” he said. 

Reaction from those on the front line was total dismay. 

This from WFPL:
Math is the gatekeeper for students' school success, Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday recently told WFPL. 

“If a student does not do well in Algebra 1 in high school, or does not pass eighth grade math, those students will not be successful in reaching college and career ready status,” he said.

 Education Commissioner Terry Holliday
The No. 1 predictor of successfully reaching college and career readiness—an element of state accountability—is eighth grade math scores, Holliday said. Reading is important, but math is the foundation. 

Kentucky’s middle school math scores have not been as high as the education department would like (45 percent of eighth grade students are proficient or above according to the latest data), and Holliday said that’s partly because middle school math teachers aren’t receiving the training they need to teach Kentucky's new standards. 

The state was the first to adopt the Common Core Standards (now called the Kentucky Core Academic Standards), which is supposed to improve how and what students learn in English language arts and math. These new standards are more difficult and are meant to help states that adopted them (which is most) compete with our international peers. 

But it also means middle school math teachers are now teaching some content, like in Algebra I, that was previously taught in high school, Holliday said. 

Teaching new standards affects all grade levels. But middle and elementary school teachers have not received adequate training in their college's or university's preparation programs, which Holliday said needs to change. 

“This is something we’re finding pretty persistent across the commonwealth,” he said.
Middle and elementary school teachers aren’t required to take math courses for their certificate according guidelines by the Education Profession Standards Board, which determines what kind of training teachers need to work in the state.  

The change will need to come in part by the EPSB and teacher prep programs at colleges and universities, said Holliday. Among the ideas, he said, is to have elementary or middle school teachers with a focus, like math, which is something high school teachers have.  

“This is what Finland and other leading countries do,” he said.  

There are potential changes that may come in the next few years, said Holliday. He added the state needs to look at its licensure and program approval systems and determine what kind of correlation exists between teacher certification requirements and how kids perform in math at certain grade levels.
The Commissioner “failed to do his homework,” one teacher educator told KSN&C. “Not only have I received intensive training on the new common core standards, and returned to teach methods students, and train teachers in the state on what they mean as far as content and teaching practice, but our Math Department also received training and served on many committees in the early stages of development.”  

Regarding the program requirements for teacher education candidates, “All I can say is whoever shared this information evidently does not know what they are talking about,” the professor said. “Our middle school students take 24 to 27 hours of math and our elementary students take 9 -12 hours. These hours do not include methods - which would add an additional 3 hours.”
KSN&C wrote to KDE spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez to see if the Commissioner would consider clarifying his statements for the record. And he did.

Rodriguez provided some context to the Commissioner’s comments. The interview was a follow up to an Unbridled Learning media webcast where Dr. Holliday was asked about middle school math scores. He noted at that time that middle school mathematics teachers are being required to teach concepts that once were the domain of high school teachers and not all have the content knowledge to do that. 

“While the networks were an excellent collaboration of higher education and K-12, my remarks are based on hundreds of one-on-one discussions with classroom teachers who were certainly aware of the standards, however, expressed a need for additional content knowledge and support,” Education Commissioner Terry Holliday said.
Rodriguez said that Holliday has been working closely with EPSB and CPE leaders for several years to enhance teacher preparation programs. She described it as “a very cooperative and collaborative partnership” that includes examining teacher preparation programs, trainings and professional learning. Eastern Kentucky University, along with other Kentucky public and private higher education institutions, has been involved in this work, including participating in development of a proposal for the Vanguard Project which addresses reform in teacher preparation.
KSN&C wondered, "Is he really suggesting departmentalizing elementary and middle schools, like high schools?"
As the story noted, Dr. Holliday suggested that schools have some teachers with a mathematics content focus. It is common for elementary and middle schools to have teachers who have a literacy focus now. He was suggesting that it would be valuable for them to also have teachers with a mathematics content focus.
“As a chief, I support looking at our international competitors. Many of which require math specialization at the upper elementary and middle school levels. Marc Tucker and many other education writers support this change in certification requirements,” Holliday said.

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