What makes better mathematics teachers? A Cross sectional analysis of the United States

A student of economic history will tell you that a fall in technological advancement is foreshadowing for the collapse of the empire. While today the US remains a world leader in technological advancement, there is a fear that over time this will change due to the US falling behind the rest of the world’s ability to innovate. This is a threat to the US’s economy and public safety In 2013 The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) released data comparing the academic achievement in math, science and language of 15-year-old students in 65 countries. While most of the countries have improved their scores from the previous test time (2009), U.S. students’ performance stayed flat – they were ranked 36th in math, 28th in science and 24th in language. This is below most of the advanced and some developing economies, and significantly below the OECD average (PISA benchmark). Yet, according to The National Center for Education Statistics, the United States spends well above the OECD average level of expenditures per student for all levels of education. A burning question that many politicians, educators, and researchers ask nowadays is: why is such an advanced country not performing up to par? In addition many fear that this decline in academic achievement is foreshadowing a decline in the US as a world leading innovator and super power.

The purpose of my research is to discover what works in regards to teachers in bettering the mathematics education of students. This research will study the effects of teacher’s certifications and licensing on mathematics performance. In addition it will examine the effects various government actions and requirements on a state-by-state level. The goal of this research is to understand what is working in the US, in the hopes that it can shed light on ways that the US can reform its education system in order to maintain itself as a world’s innovator.

A study by Dan D. Goldhaber and Dominic J. Brewer shows that there was no statistically significant difference between student mathematic achievement taught by teachers with a MA or PhD, however there was a significant, positive difference between students taught by teachers with a degree in mathematics and those taught by teachers whose degree was outside of mathematics. In addition they found that “mathematics students who have teachers with emergency credentials do no worse than students whose teachers have standard teaching credentials, all else being equal.” This suggests that standard certification may not be effective in raising mathematics achievement.

However a study by Linda Darling Hammond at Stanford University suggests that there is a positive correlation between masters degrees (or higher) on student performance. This study also found similar results to the Goldhaber and Brewer study, that students with teachers who have a degree in mathematics experience an increase in their scores. In fact they found a significantly stronger correlation for students taught by teacher with extensive mathematics coursework.

This study will be a cross sectional multiple regression analysis of the United States using mathematics achievement as the dependent variable. I intend in using SAT math scores, so long as College Board accepts my request for the data. If not I have found suitable back up data (from the NCES), although it may limit my study due to the fact that is it only available at the state level, unlike the SAT data that could be available by county, which would allow me to analyze significantly more variation.

Some possible independent variables for the model are teachers with a masters degree or higher, teachers with an education degree, and teachers with a degree in mathematics. In addition dummy variables will be created to measure the effects of different state requirements for teachers. I will control for gender, ethnicity, family income if possible, student teacher ratios, and expenditure per student and various other factors data permitting. It is important to note that all studies that I have encountered have found significant differences in performances of various races, genders and family incomes, thus justifying my control variables.

I believe students taught by teachers who hold graduate degrees (masters or higher) will not out perform other students in mathematics. Instead I believe that students taught by teachers with a specialization in mathematics will out perform those who are not. Additionally I believe that students in states with stricter requirements for teacher’s certification will perform better.


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