WaToToM Position Paper





It is the strong recommendation of the Washington Teachers of Teachers of Mathematics (WaToToM) that the state require a full academic year (9 months) of college mathematics content courses for all preservice elementary teachers in the state of Washington prior to their beginning mathematics methods courses. These courses should have a content that is tailored to the needs of future elementary teachers rather than the content of standard introductory college courses. This recommendation is based on the requirements of the new Washington Competencies for Teacher Endorsement, the demands of teaching the mathematics Essential Academic Learning Requirements and preparing students for the WASL, and the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, as well as recommendations of professional and certification organizations such as Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences (CBMS), National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) and National Council of Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).

Statewide, and indeed nationally, there is a need for K-8 teachers to have more content knowledge about the mathematics they teach. According to the 2000 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education, only 54% of elementary teachers feel prepared to teach the mathematics they are responsible for teaching. Efforts are being made to improve the teaching of inservice teachers with professional development, but insofar as the professional development is designed to fill in gaps in teachers' content knowledge, it seems clear that part of the solution must also be to diminish the degree to which teachers are sent into the system already supplied with gaps to be filled.

In the state of Washington one of the efforts made to rectify this situation is the development of a list of competencies that preservice teachers need to attain during their college education. The members of WaToToM who examined this list are in strong agreement that the competencies on it are very much needed by any elementary school teacher. We also noted that the list is a long one and contains a number of items that many of our preservice teachers have not studied in their own schooling. If we ignore that fact, we will continue the cycle of sending teachers into the profession with inadequate preparation to teach mathematics. Only two of the state's universities require more than one quarter or semester of mathematics content (as distinct from mathematics methods). Few, if any, college instructors who teach one semester or one quarter of mathematics content to preservice elementary teachers feel that the competencies can be thoroughly taught in such a short amount of time. Attempting to do so leaves our preservice teachers with a conceptual understanding of mathematics that is superficial at best. Many of our teachers in Washington are entering the profession ill prepared to teach the content and in need of professional development from the outset of their careers. This has been recognized by OSPI and other state officials in Washington state. After reviewing data, they identified improving teachers' content knowledge in mathematics and their ability to incorporate computer-related technology to enhance instruction and student learning in mathematics as a high priority for professional development (Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board, Oct 2002, p. 6). However, only a small percentage of inservice teachers will participate in professional development to improve content knowledge in mathematics.

Many studies have documented that teachers pass their attitudes toward a subject on to their own students. While many of us see the fear of mathematics that a majority of preservice elementary teachers experience, “…those who work with them can testify that once these prospective teachers experience their own capacities for mathematical thought their anxiety is transformed into energy for learning.” (Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences, 2001, p. 24). In the context of a full year course, we have seen students initially resentful of and resistant to our high expectations who report perhaps one, two or three semesters later that their mathematics content courses were their most powerful learning experiences. Time is essential to effect this kind of change. One quarter or one semester is not enough time to develop the necessary deep understanding of and improved attitude toward mathematics.

In summary, if we are to have a significant impact on the mathematics abilities of our children we must begin to improve the mathematics abilities of our future elementary teachers. The time to act is now. Currently, most elementary teachers in our state take only one mathematics content course and in many cases the course does not target the specific needs of the elementary teacher. Partially as a result, many of our current elementary teachers feel ill prepared to teach the wide range of mathematics topics called for in the EALRS. It is our recommendation that all preservice elementary teachers be required to take a full academic year of mathematics content courses. We further recommend that those courses be designed to address the competencies listed by the state. In terms of content, this means including such topics as problem-solving, number sense, probability and geometry. In terms of structure, it means that the courses should be designed so as to engage future teachers in the kind of hands-on, inquiry-based learning that will foster their development of the listed teaching competencies. The state of Washington, working with our higher education institutions, needs to carry forward the work towards the goals indicated by its adoption of the teaching competencies as soon as possible by requiring that all future elementary teachers in Washington receive a full year of instruction in mathematics content that targets the specific needs of the elementary teacher.


The Washington HEC Board concluded that we have a high number of teachers in Washington in need of professional development in teaching mathematics. So better training in math content is needed for our teachers. This conclusion was “…based on recommendations from OSPI, the program’s advisory committee, a review of reports and data currently available on the condition of teaching and learning in Washington schools, and the statewide collaborative efforts for systemic education reform.” (Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board, Oct 2002, p. 6)

Nationally there is also a need for more content knowledge about the mathematics taught for K-8 teachers. According to the 2000 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education, only 54% of elementary teachers feel prepared to teach the mathematics they are responsible for teaching. It was also noted “Grade K-5 mathematics teachers expressed a substantial need for professional development in a number of ways, especially in using technology. Unfortunately, low participation in professional development activities and/or the lack of technology emphasis during these activities means that many teachers do not receive the help they need.” (Malzahn, Dec, 2002, p.26)

Many states, including Illinois, Montana, Louisiana, California and Missouri, already require a full academic year (9 months) of mathematics content.

“There is evidence of a vicious cycle in which too many prospective teachers enter college with insufficient understanding of school mathematics, have little college instruction focused on the mathematics they will teach, and then enter their classrooms inadequately prepared to teach mathematics to the following generations of students.” (Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences, 2001, p. 5)

Support for increasing the mathematics content that is designed specifically for K-8 teachers: “These courses have a direct impact on future teachers by providing examples and experiences of constructivist teaching and learning. Since teachers are likely to teach in the same style they learned, inquiry-based students are more likely to become inquiry-based teachers who will provide knowledge-building experiences for their own students. In addition, students learning in these ways are deepening their own content knowledge.” (Fitzsimmons & Kerpelman).

Teachers must understand the concepts they will be teaching to their future students. “Results of international studies, as described, for example, in Stigler and Hiebert’s 1999 book The Teaching Gap, indicate that U.S. school mathematics instruction places a comparatively low priority on engaging students to develop an understanding of mathematics. To foster more of this activity [development of a mathematical mind] in schools, prospective teachers need to experience such instruction in their college mathematics classes and to learn that there are multiple ways to engage students in mathematics.” (Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences, 2001, p. 8)

According to the NCTM, the federal government is putting a high priority on K-12 mathematics and science education in the US:
Math and science education is in crisis and in critical need of improvements and continued reforms. Last February, a report from the Commission on National Security for the 21st Century called attention to the need for continued reforms specifically to K-12 science and math education. The report, Roadmap for National Security: Imperative for Change, states: "Americans are living off the economic and security benefits of the last three generations' investment in science and education, but now we are consuming capital. Our systems of basic scientific research and [science and math] education are in serious crisis. . . . In this commission's view, the inadequacies of our system of research and [science and math] education pose a greater threat to U.S. national security over the next quarter century than any potential conventional war that we might imagine . . . If we do not invest heavily and wisely in rebuilding these two core strengths, America will not be capable of maintaining its global position long into the 21st century." (NCTM http://www.nctm.org/new/legislative).


Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences. (2001). The Mathematical Education of Teachers Part 1. Mathematical Association of America in cooperation with American Mathematical Society.

Fitzsimmons, S. J. & Kerpelman, L.C. (Eds.). Teacher Enhancement for Elementary and Secondary Science and Mathematics: Status, Issues, and Problems. Washington D.C.: National Science foundation (NSF94-80).

Malzan, Kristen. (December 2002). 2000 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education: Status of Elementary School Mathematics Teaching. www.horizon-research.com

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. NCTM Urges Higher Funding for Math-Science Partnerships (December 4, 2001) http://www.nctm.org/new/legislative

Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board. (Oct, 2002). No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 Title II, part A, Subpart 3, State Agency for Higher Education (SAHE) Partnerships Public law 107-110 Request for Proposals. Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board: Olympia WA.

Washington State Competency List for Elementary Education (Jan. 2002)

Send mail to: warfield@math.washington.edu
Last modified: 10/9/2003 11:16 pm