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Look at US guru-shishya 'maths' equation

education Updated: Dec 01, 2008 11:26 IST

Mathematics can be hard enough, but imagine the difficulty when the teacher is just one chapter ahead of the students. It happens in the United States, and it happens more often to poor and minority students. Those children are about twice as likely to have maths teachers who don't know their subject, according to a report by the Education Trust, a children's advocacy group.

Studies show the connection between teachers' knowledge and student achievement is particularly strong in math. "Individual teachers matter a tremendous amount in how much students learn," said Ross Wiener, who oversees policy issues at the organization. The report looked at teachers with neither an academic major nor certification in the subjects they teach.

Among the findings, which were based on data from the US Education Department data: In high-poverty schools, two in five maths classes have teachers with neither a college major nor certification in the subject. In schools with a greater share of black and Latino children, nearly one in three math classes is taught by such a teacher. Maths is important because it is considered a ‘gateway’ course, one that leads to greater success in college and the workplace.

Teenagers who finish Algebra II in high school are more likely to get bachelor's degrees in college. And people with bachelor's degrees earn substantially more money than those with no higher education than high school diplomas. The teaching problem is most acute in the middle grades, 5-8, the report said.

That's a crucial time for math, said Ruth Neild, a research scientist at Johns Hopkins University. Teachers should not be blamed for out-of-field teaching, the report said. It can happen anywhere a shortage of teachers exist in a particular discipline. It can also happen where no shortage exists but school administrators have planned poorly.