Over the last couple of decades, a significant goal of education reform has been to improve math teachers' subject knowledge and to improve the quality of their instruction through new standards and curriculum materials. But to get serious about building a pipeline of math teachers with high levels of expertise in their subject, policymakers should take steps to make the teaching profession more attractive as compared to other jobs, suggests a forthcoming paper from researchers at the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University.
The study — funded by a National Science Foundation grant and conducted by Heather Hill, Virginia Lovison, and Thomas Kelley-Kemple — found that more teachers scored well on an assessment measuring their mathematical teaching knowledge in 2016 than in 2005. But they found that the improvement appeared more tied to changes in the labor market than to policymakers’ efforts to strengthen the mathematics background of teachers. In particular, the uptick in teacher scores roughly correspond to the 2008 recession, when jobs became scarcer.
But that doesn’t mean policymakers have to wait until economic hard times to attract more qualified math teachers, says Hill, a HGSE professor. Instead, it suggests that if policymakers acted to make teaching a more attractive profession — one that paid more and offered better benefits than other professions requiring college degrees — there would be more highly qualified math teachers during all economies.