[Note: From a staff member monitoring the TIMSS-Forum listserve. FYI.]
The following comments were posted in earlier messages on the list:
1. Only a concerted State and Federal effort toward recruitment and quality education and training will alleviate this issue and only in the long run.
2. Until teachers are better compensated, and achieve higher status as professionals, it is difficult to see how we can reverse this trend.
3. But real planning time and time to get together with colleagues would be very helpful indeed.
4. that's what happens when the books are written for sale, not for consumption, that's why 90% of them are trash.
5. We need to shift our focus and resources to include pre-service and look at innovative ways of bringing new teachers into the profession.
6. any reform effort which requires teachers to spend a lot of time preparing new material or instructional approaches will probably not be successful.
7. I do not doubt for a minute that there are shortages for math and science teachers in many areas. However, my experience in the metropolitan Philadelphia, PA area is that this is not true. There are more applicants than openings in that area making it a buyer's market.
To quote my colleague: "The value of TIMSS is that it is one effort to provide some data upon which to come up with smarter solutions to problems." And, in fact, suggestions #1-3 above actually are being implemented in some of the TIMSS countries where students are achieving well in mathematics and science. The question now is how do we implement the suggestions in the U.S.?
Each suggestion above is a necessary but not sufficient component in and of itself. Recruitment and quality training (both for pre-service and in-service) are important. Time for teachers to work together is critically important. Better support materials are important. Better compensation for teachers (in some regions*) is important. More equitable distribution of qualified teachers is important.
However,those offering professional development are spinning their wheels in the face of the American reality of thousands of districts that determine their own curriculum and districts within which individual schools are doing their own individual thing. How can pre-service and in-service institutions properly prepare students to teach when they don't know where to begin in supporting which curriculum?
In response to comment #6 - NSF, over the last 10 years, has funded the development of curriculum programs in mathematics, which should save schools the chore and time of developing their own curriculum and materials. But these curriculum programs can be implemented successfully only if intensive, ongoing professional development is provided (NOT defined as 3-5 isolated inservice days/year). Yet, there are many schools that are selecting these NSF curriculum materials without giving thought to providing teachers with the necessary professional development.
Re comment #2 about better compensation for teachers and comment #7 that there is no lack of qualified mathematics teachers in his/her area* - until we find a better way of funding education than through property tax**, we will continue to suffer from inequities in teacher qualification, as described earlier by members of this list. In one of the other TIMSS countries, in an effort to maintain equity in teaching quality, teachers are moved every 6-9 years. This option probably would not be appealing or practical in this country, but can we come up with some other solutions in lieu of standing still wringing our hands?
* Teachers in some communities in this area make up to $90K annually. ** Several years ago Michigan stopped funding education with property tax; property tax was lowered and the state sales tax was increased from 4% to 6%. All districts now are funded on a per pupil basis. The end result is that the richer districts gave up some, and the less wealthy schools gained some. The outcome depends on one's political perspective (interestingly, Gov. Engler is a Republican, not a Democrat).
Additional factors that impact teacher qualification and retention include the reality that our national and state standards were developed pre-TIMSS, and they all still contain too many topics. What districts and/or states currently are revising their standards in light of TIMSS? What innovative solutions are districts/schools developing to find more time for teachers to plan and to work together?
Is anyone out there actually using the TIMSS data to inform decision-making in schools? If so, how?
************************************************************** Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA Fax: (618)453-4244 Phone: (618)453-4241 (office) E-mail: JBECKER@SIU.EDU