A new study in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society
strengthens evidence that gender gaps in math ability do not exist. The study concludes instead that gender gaps in mathematics performance reflect unequal opportunity for girls and boys. Interestingly, these findings dispel hypotheses that boys have a greater variability in ability than girls, resulting in higher attainment for top performers. On average, girls perform at least as well as boys on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). And in countries where there are observable disparities, these differences are mostly attributable to socio-cultural factors, especially gender stratification.
The authors used the results from 4th and 8th grade students on the 2003 and 2007 TIMSS as well as the scores of 4th grade students on the 2003 PISA. They analyzed a variety of factors that have been suggested as potential reasons for the traditional male-dominance of math. Some, including single-sex schooling, national income, and greater variability in male intellectual ability do not appear to impact math outcomes by gender.
The authors did observe, though, that women who are well-educated and have a high income are much more likely to ensure that their children reach a similarly high level of educational attainment. Thus, greater gender equity in the workforce correlates with higher math performance among both male and female students. Creating equitable employment opportunities and compensation promotes the development of higher math achievers. Fortunately, the United States has made strides toward eliminating gender stratification. For example, girls now perform equally with boys in math, even in high school, having closed the significant gap that existed in the 1970s. As we continue to expand opportunities for women in math and science, we will likely see even greater improvements in math performance across both genders.
No matter which way a teacher turns these days, it seems that a conversation about the Common Core Standards is likely to ensue. In many states, the transition to the new standards has already begun, so any educator involved with the implementation is looking for ideas about how to educate teachers to ensure a smooth transition to the new expectations. As is the trend with many areas of training, it is likely that one of the most effective methods for training teachers is through online professional development.
Many states have promised to support students, educators, and parents through the transition, yet few have actually spent the time or money to do so. Therefore, districts looking for early training opportunities have to dig a little deeper or create their own programs. One source for online professional development that is currently available is the James B. Hunt Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy’s Common Core Videos.
Here, educators can find a series of vignettes relating to the Language Arts and Mathematics Common Core Standards. Because each video is just a few minutes long, anyone who is interested in learning about the new standards can get an overview with a minimal time investment. Topics include a standards overview, the history of the standards, how they were developed, and more specific details about individual standards.
Clearly, this offering is just scratching the surface of the professional development that will be needed, but it is a great place to start. Teachers are provided with concise, accurate information and can review the content on their own time. From this basic knowledge, teachers and professional developers can begin to cultivate a professional development plan that makes sense. Take a peek at the videos and share them with your colleagues. Then, the next time you have a professional discussion about the standards, you will come to the table with a similar level of background knowledge.
Last month I attended the Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences Forum (CBMS) on Content-Based Professional Development for Teachers of Mathematics in Reston, VA. The CBMS is an umbrella organization representing seventeen professional societies, including math education groups like NCTM, NCSM, and TODOS; associations of mathematicians, such as the Mathematical Association of America and the American Mathematical Society; and other math-related groups. This is the third CBMS forum I've attended. Two years ago the focus was the Report of the National Math Panel. Last year we concentrated on the emerging draft of the Common Core State Standards. The goal of each forum has been to generate discussion and distill policy recommendations for decision-makers at the federal level. With a focus on teacher professional development, last month's forum tackled what is arguably the most important lever for improving math performance. The speaker and panel presentations are available on the CBMS website. I just want to share a few quick highlights:
- Several speakers used different terms – structures, trajectories, content progressions – to describe the same idea. The Common Core State Standards is built on content and skills that connect from year to year. The objectives should not be considered in isolation. They are part of threads that run, for instance, from Base Ten Number and Operations through the Number System and into Algebra. Understanding those interconnections is critical for teachers, and one of my breakout groups recommended incorporating the trajectories into math teacher education. Elementary teachers need to see where the content they're teaching will be leading their students. And middle and high school teachers need to follow the threads back to what their students learned in 3rd or 4th grade.
- Teachers are learners too. Kind of a "duh" realization, but we often neglect to apply basic learning theory when we're working with adult teachers. We need to respect background knowledge, provide appropriate scaffolds and supports, and connect procedures to meaning. What we do to ensure successful instruction of children, we should also do for teachers in pre-service and professional development.
- We need to provide teachers with new ways to assess student work, particularly student understanding. Much of what currently happens in the classroom focuses on measuring skill and procedural knowledge. What kinds of tasks can provide windows into student thinking and strategic competence? There's much work to do here, but some of the presentations from the forum offer a glimpse of the possibilities.
A synthesis of ideas and recommendations from the forum should be available soon, so check back on the CBMS website next month.
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Throughout this school year, one of my primary tasks will be getting to know and truly understand the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. My home state, New Jersey, recently adopted these standards along with many other states in the nation. While the adoption of these standards will not immediately affect classroom instruction, many educators will have to start thinking about and planning for the implementation of these standards over the next few years.
The Common Core State Standards were developed as a collaborative effort between teachers, administrators, and experts to ensure that students throughout the country are learning the same core skill at about the same time during their educational career. In the past, states have created individual sets of standards that were often quite different from one another. This created a challenge because it was difficult to compare students from one state to the next. It is also difficult for students who move between states because the content they have learned in one area of the country could be quite different from the content they are expected to know in their new school. Now, states can opt to adopt the Common Core State Standards to provide consistent expectations to students. Additionally, the Common Core State Standards are research-based and meant to ensure that all students are prepared for college or the work force.
Because I have been doing my best to stay on top of the Common Core State Standards Movement, I hope that I can share perspective and insight through this blog as the year rolls on. Stay tuned to future blog posts for information about how to plan for and implement the standards in your district. In the meantime, visit www.corestandards.org for comprehensive and up-to-date information about the Common Core State Standards Initiative.
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