The Mathematics Education of Future Primary and Secondary Teachers: Methods and Findings from the Teacher Education and Development Study in Mathematics

By Tatto, Maria Teresa; Senk, Sharon | Journal of Teacher Education, March-April 2011 | Go to article overview

The Mathematics Education of Future Primary and Secondary Teachers: Methods and Findings from the Teacher Education and Development Study in Mathematics


Tatto, Maria Teresa, Senk, Sharon, Journal of Teacher Education


Teachers make a difference. The success of any plan for improving educational outcomes depends on the teachers who carry it out and thus on the abilities of those attracted to the field and their preparation. Yet there are many questions about how teachers are being prepared and how they ought to be prepared.

--National Research Council (2010, p. 1)

Discussions about teacher preparation are particularly important for future teachers of mathematics because mathematics proficiency has been seen for many years as a requirement for full participation in civil society and a global economy (Commission on Mathematics and Science Education, 2009; Husen, 1967). However, for years, researchers in some countries have reported that mathematics teachers in primary and lower secondary schools often show serious misunderstandings, and these researchers have expressed concern for what is perceived as deficient preparation in this area (e.g., Ball & Bass, 2003; Fennema & Franke, 1992; Post, Harel, Behr, & Lesh, 1991). Teachers may know the facts and procedures that they teach but often have relatively weak understandings of the conceptual basis for that knowledge and have difficulty clarifying mathematical ideas or solving problems that involve more than routine calculations (Ball, 1991). Some scholars claim that teachers' knowledge of mathematics, or lack thereof, may help explain the relative performance of students in national or international achievement tests (Darling-Hammond, 2000; Ingersoll, 1999; Kilpatrick, Swafford, & Findell, 2001; Ma, 1999).

Recent research has begun to advance our understanding of the mathematical knowledge considered most important for school mathematics teaching, but we know much less about the knowledge most important for teaching secondary school mathematics than for primary mathematics (see, e.g., Baumert et al., 2010; Hill, Sleep, Lewis, & Ball, 2007; Schmidt et al., 2007). Recommendations from mathematical societies, for example, The Mathematical Education of Teachers (Conference Board of Mathematical Sciences, 2001), emphasize that future teachers of school mathematics need to develop a deep understanding of the mathematics they will teach. A recent review commissioned by the National Academy of Sciences in the United States concurs: "Successful mathematics teachers need preparation that covers knowledge of mathematics, of how students learn mathematics, and of mathematical pedagogy that is aligned with the recommendations of professional societies" (National Research Council, 2010, p. 123). It also recommends that "both quantitative and qualitative data about the programs of study in mathematics offered and required at teacher preparation institutions is needed, as is research to improve understanding of what sorts of preparation approaches are most effective at developing effective teachers" (p. 124).

As Husen (1967) argued, international comparative studies of education help educators view their own systems of education more objectively because factors potentially related to educational achievement have to be defined in a standardized way. Even and Ball (2009) noted that preparing and maintaining a high-quality, professional teaching force that can teach mathematics effectively is a worldwide challenge and that all researchers can benefit from a worldwide conversation. Research conducted cross-nationally by Britton, Paine, Raizen, and Pimm (2003), Hiebert and colleagues (2003), and Ma (1999) indentified differences in teacher preparation that may explain some differences in school mathematics performance. However, these studies used relatively small or non-randomly chosen samples, so their results are limited in the extent to which they can be generalized.

This article reports on the Teacher Education and Development Study in Mathematics (TEDS-M), a large quantitative comparative study that investigated the mathematics preparation of primary and secondary school teachers in 17 countries: Botswana, Canada, Chile, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), Georgia, Germany, Malaysia, Norway, Oman, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, and the United States.

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