The Time Has Come for Pre-K-5 Mathematics Specialists
by Johnny W. Lott, NCTM President 2002-2004 NCTM News Bulletin, July/August 2003
The No Child Left Behind Act calls for "highly qualified mathematics teachers" in all classrooms by 2005. To meet this requirement, teachers for the early grades would need both a bachelor's degree and state certification. In reality, the call for student proficiency in mathematics and science demands more than this. I suggest that although there has been a traditional unwillingness to consider the need for mathematics specialists in elementary schools, it is an idea whose time has come.
Consider the arguments in favor of specialists in other fields:
Now, consider the needs of students in mathematics. Similar arguments to those above have been made in favor of mathematics specialists, including the following:
It's unfortunate that so many teachers of mathematics are teaching the subject without the requisite knowledge to teach it. Isn't it time for that to change? Mathematics specialists would do just that and could help improve mathematics learning by students in elementary school.
The type of coursework and training that specialists should have was addressed in The Mathematical Education of Teachers Part I (Mathematical Association of America 2001, pp. 7–8):
(i) Prospective elementary grade teachers should be required to take at least 9 semester-hours on fundamental ideas of elementary school mathematics.
"Fundamental ideas of elementary school mathematics" must reach beyond what is taught to students at that level. The fundamental mathematics must be taught with understanding. Why algorithms work, why classifications are necessary for young children as they learn mathematics, and why it is necessary to learn the rudiments of mathematical language in such a way that they do not have to be relearned later are all ideas that may enter the fundamentals of mathematics for teachers. Understanding, not just mechanics, is a key here. A mathematics specialist at the elementary school level must have a basic understanding of mathematical concepts in each of the five content areas: algebra, geometry, measurement, number and operations, and data analysis and probability.
The mandate for higher-performing students is nationwide. We are being pushed to consider different and better models for teaching. Evidence shows us that students of more knowledgeable teachers do score higher on tests. Therefore, I believe the time has come for a mathematics specialist for the elementary grades. Watch NCTM Web site for an online chat with Johnny Lott on this subject.
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