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Teachers don't have good grasp of math

THE GLOBE'S editorial, "Mathematical unknowns," identifies an important issue in our nation's schools: the abysmal performance of students in mathematics. By nearly every national or international standard, our students are not performing well in this critical subject area.

The issue, however, is not which curriculum; the issue is how to provide support and improve the mathematical understanding of teachers. It is unreasonable to expect teachers to teach mathematics well when they themselves do not have an adequate grasp of the subject. A recent study of Chinese and American teachers demonstrated that few American teachers could successfully offer an explanation of the meaning of 1 3/4 divided by 1/2. In contrast, all of the Asian teachers could easily do so.

Instead of arguing about which curriculum to use and how it relates to the MCAS, school officials and state policymakers should focus on how best to support teachers to learn the mathematics and teaching approaches necessary to teach the subject well.

Worrying about curriculum without addressing the content and teaching needs of teachers is akin to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

KATHERINE K. MERSETH
Professor
Harvard Graduate School
of Education
Cambridge
 

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