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School of Education collaborates on $10.3M project to improve math education

Improving the initial preparation and continuing education of teachers of mathematics will be the focus of the new Center for Proficiency in Teaching Mathematics, a collaborative effort between the School of Education and the University of Georgia College of Education.

A $10.3 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) funds the center. The project, led at U-M by faculty members Deborah Ball, Ed Silver and Hyman Bass, is dedicated to improving the professional education of K­16 teachers of mathematics.

Programs for teacher leaders, doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows will integrate mathematics learning with the practice of teaching mathematics. The center's goals include preparing a new generation of effective teachers of mathematics, building knowledge about the mathematical education of teachers and strengthening the infrastructure for professional development of mathematics teachers throughout the country.

"Teacher quality is the single most important factor in raising student achievement," says Karen Wixson, dean of the School of Education. "The three-fold thrust of the centerdoctoral preparation, research and scholarship, and the preparation and continuing education of teacherswill serve to strengthen the entire infrastructure of mathematics education."

The need for capacity-building in mathematics teacher education is substantial; more than a quarter of all students of mathematics in grades 7­12 have teachers who have neither a major nor a minor in their teaching field. At the same time, the human resources for training new mathematics teachers are dwindling. In Ph.D.-granting institutions, more than half the faculty will be eligible for retirement in two years, and nearly 80 percent will be eligible in 10 years, according to NSF.

Co-principal investigator (PI) Ball notes that a major problem, to which the center will devote its resources, is that teachers' mathematics preparation often has been insufficient for the mathematical demands of teaching. Among the issues to be developed in the center, she says, is a better understanding of what constitutes mathematical knowledge for teaching and how teachers can be helped to develop such knowledge. A second problem, closely related, is that connections between rigorous content preparation in mathematics and teaching practice often have been unsuccessful in the education of teachers. Center researchers are investigating how the study of mathematics and the study of teaching might be better integrated.

Co-PI Bass, a mathematician who holds a joint appointment in the School of Education and as the Roger Lyndon Professor of Mathematics, says that in order to build capacity to improve the quality and effectiveness of mathematics teacher education, the center will establish connections among the different professional contributors, settings and institutions involved in the education of mathematics teachers. Organizational affiliates of the new center include the American Mathematical Society, the American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges, the Mathematical Association of America, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators. In addition, other institutions will be partners in this work. Among the local institutions are U-M­Dearborn, Western Michigan University and the Oakland Intermediate School District.

Research to study the character and effectiveness of various efforts in teacher education and professional development is a second key part of the center's work. "Our work will necessarily take us in and out of the domains usually owned and operated by practitioners and those usually owned and operated by researchers," co-PI Silver says. "Thus, in addition to producing academic scholarship and contributing to the wisdom of practice, through our work in the center we will also be crafting a new form of knowledge that is not exactly like either of these traditional forms."

Development of graduate-level programs is the third focus of the center's efforts to build the infrastructure and human capital of American mathematics education. To meet this challenge, the center will provide support for doctoral students whose focus is on mathematics teaching and teacher learning. The center also will support post-doctoral fellowships for mathematics educators and mathematicians interested in working on research and development on issues of mathematics teacher education.

The center is part of a $100 million NSF initiative across the country to improve teaching and leadership in mathematics, science and technology. Three new centers were funded this year, and the School of Education is a major collaborator on two of those projects, one in science education and one in mathematics education.

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