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Are Our Teachers Prepared to Provide Instruction in Statistics at the K–12 Levels?

statisticsby Christine Franklin
October 2000

Statistics is a rapidly growing area within the mathematics curriculum at the K–12 levels. The emergence of statistics noticeably unfolded with the NCTM's Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics (Reston, Va.: NCTM, 1989) and continues in Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (Reston, Va.: NCTM, 2000). The foundation and implementation of Advanced Placement statistics began in the 1990s. Numerous resources for incorporating statistics into the mathematics curriculum have been developed throughout the 1990s, with the Quantitative Literacy Series (White Plains, N.Y.: Dale Seymour Publications, 1987) by J. Landwehr et al., leading the way in the late 1980s.

What has been obvious since the mid-1990s is that most mathematics teachers are not comfortable teaching statistics. Most believe that their backgrounds are inadequate to properly use materials in teaching statistics. Many in-service teachers and some prospective teachers have either never taken a formal statistics course or they have taken a "cookbook course." The intended statistics curriculum for the K–12 levels (including Advanced Placement statistics) is not the traditional formula-oriented statistics. It is intended to be taught at a conceptual level. Additionally, such Advanced Placement statistics course topics as sampling and experimental design are not covered in most undergraduate teacher-preparation programs. Statistical literacy, or a working knowledge of statistics for everyday use, is the current goal. This goal does not allow teachers simply to teach comfortable algorithms that are easy to learn. Today's students are encouraged to discover key ideas and concepts with hands-on activities or by using simulation and to be able to communicate their ideas. This discovery is aided through computers or calculators—tools with which many in-service and prospective teachers feel inadequate.

With the rapid growth of Advanced Placement statistics, the need for additional secondary teacher training has become essential. The number of Advanced Placement statistics examinations given has grown from 7500 exams in 1997 to 35 000 exams in 2000. This increase implies that many teachers, new and old, are teaching statistics. Much training has been through workshops. However, only so much can be covered in a one-day to one-week workshop. The tasks of deciding what to teach, understanding the material, and knowing how to teach it are overwhelming.

At the University of Georgia, a statistics course was developed by the Department of Statistics in conjunction with the College of Education to prepare both preservice and in-service teachers in statistics. The course combines instruction in content and methods for delivering the content, as well as the use and demonstration of resources and materials for secondary teachers to incorporate in their classrooms. Technology is emphasized with the use of TI-83 calculators and MINITAB on the computer. Instruction is also given on advanced statistical topics to help prospective statistics teachers understand the whys of what they will teach. Currently, again as a joint effort, a new course is being developed for K-8 mathematics teachers.

Teacher-preparation institutions must ensure the statistics education of preservice teachers, in addition to reaching out to in-service teachers. Ideally, statisticians, teacher educators, and mathematicians should be involved in this education. We cannot wait any longer. The time is now.


Chris Franklin,, is an instructor and honors professor in the Department of Statistics at the University of Georgia. She was a prime developer of the University of Georgia statistics course that she describes.

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