The Montgomery County school system has announced what it considers to be an acceptable solution to the shortage of mathematics teachers in its classrooms. If mediocrity is what we seek, then the Montgomery County solution is acceptable. However, I, for one, believe that schools have the responsibility to provide mathematics education that reflects meaning and understanding by its teachers and for the population it is educating.
The school system has decided to recruit interested elementary school teachers with minimal mathematic training and experience for available positions as secondary school math teachers.
It is incomprehensible that a county that prides itself on meeting the "changing student needs" and on "reflecting the changes in society," as outlined in county publications, would consider a policy of increasing the number of mathematics teachers by retraining those "interested" elementary personnel who "need a change"; who showed ability in "math skills" (however that may have been defined); who completed "two one-credit in- service seminars and spent four weeks in a half-day summer school teaching practicum"; and who "go three half-days of released time to observe a junior high math class and meet with a 'math tutor' to talk about secondary" programs.
I would be curious to see how such a person could provide, for example, geometric insights to the study of algebra or, for that matter, make any connections between any branches of mathematics or between mathematics and any other discipline. Further, how does a person prepared in this fashion even begin to entertain the familiar student questions: "What is the purpose of studying algebra, geometry, etc.?" or "What will this do for me as an adult?"
My condolences go out to these teachers, but my wish is that they recognize, even if the county does not, the dangers of posing as an expert before students in an area in which such described "training" could never adequately prepare them. If we allow this county or any policy-making organization to determine excellence for education in this manner, we are doomed to create nothing but mediocrity at best and a citizenry unable either to participate in the technological society of the future or to make any kind of educated choice for itself. Maintaining the strength and wisdom of a nation requires a populace well educated in all disciplines.
Great strides have been made in mathematics education research in the last decade, and tremendous insights have been gained from past programs and policies. Consequently, in our increasingly technological society it is being realized that "back to basics" in mathematics is essentially problem-solving, retention, applicability and integration of the various branches of mathematics with each other as well as with other disciplines (art, music, physical sciences, etc.). The goal of education is achievement, not just attainment.
It is necessary that Montgomery County and others like it reform their practices that drove the expert mathematics teachers out in the first place. The salary for a beginning teacher is $15,807 a year. The scale goes up to $30,634, for a teacher with more than 23 years' experience.
But any teacher entering the school system with more than six years' experience is considered as having only six years' experience, and therefore begins with a salary of $20,748. It is no wonder that the best mathematics people have gone to industry rather than education and, further, that experienced newcomers to the area do not bring their talents to education. As a taxpayer, I would appreciate the return of those minds to the educational system to give our children what they rightfully deserve--a meaningful mathematics education, not a collection of facts and skills without understanding, which is only what personnel converted in the limited way mentioned above can provide.
If Montgomery County finds this statement an outrage, let it go back to the requirements it held but a few years ago for mathematics teachers in the secondary schools and compare those high-level, rigid expectations with what it considers appropriate today. Surely, if it wants to meet the changing needs of society, it will not permit the outrage of allowing English, history, gym and other elementary teachers- turned-mathematics-"experts" to continue. If the county continues in this vein, it will be no surprise if, by 1990, colleges have to evaluate the credentials of teachers to validate those of college applicants.
Superintendent Andrews, please take note:
Mediocrity is not commensurate with the importance society places on mathematics. The present retraining policy of Montgomery County is not acceptable to a citizenry that wants the "best" for the next generation. To reach the stars you have to aim high. The cost in dollars may be high, but ultimately it will be cheaper than the price society will have to pay in just 15 to 20 years when faced with a generation of mathematical illiterates. Your policy to "help solve the shortage of math teachers" will only create a shortage of mathematicians and a population unable to function in an advanced technological society.