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The Algebra 1 Debate Continues, Focus Shifts To Supply of Math Teachers

By Aimee Scribner - September 1, 2008

Over the past three months, we have been informing you of the debate surrounding the newly adopted Algebra 1 standard that requires 8th grade students to attain proficiency in Algebra 1 (See EdBrief Issues 30, 32, and 37).

While much of the debate around this issue has centered on whether Algebra 1 is an appropriate standard for 8th grade math, not much of the discussion has focused on who will teach these courses in schools.

In a subject area that is already in desperate need of qualified teachers, the new 8th grade standard has exacerbated the teacher shortage to the point of making it one of the biggest challenges that schools will face in coming years.

According to the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, the state may need more than 33,000 new math and science teachers — two of the hardest categories to fill — at the middle and high school levels in the next decade.  Furthermore, at least 3,000 new teachers will be needed within the next three years to teach eighth-grade algebra. 

To worsen the shortage, the Center reports that 1,000 current teachers of eighth-grade algebra are either under prepared, or teaching “out-of-field” and will need further training.  The Center estimates that 74,000 middle school students enrolled in algebra had an underprepared or “out-of-field” teacher.

In an attempt to help produce more teachers of mathematics, the California State University (CSU) system launched its Mathematics and Science Teacher Initiative three years ago.  The goal is to increase the annual production of math and science teachers.

With just 349 math teachers credentialed in 2002-03, and a more robust 788 produced four years later, they are well on their way.  CSU even offers a blended program where students can take teacher preparation courses while completing undergraduate work, rather than waiting until after they earn a bachelor’s degree.

While this new algebra requirement for eighth graders was approved less than 2 months ago, many are grappling with the fact that currently only half of the state’s eighth graders take the course.  Additionally, among those enrolled, only two out of five perform at a proficient level on tests. 

The other half of eighth-graders are still struggling with basic sixth- and seventh-grade math skills.  This fact has raised a red flag with district leaders as they confront the reality that not only do we need to strengthen and build the force of teachers available to teach Algebra 1, but we also need to focus on the earlier grades to better prepare kids for the challenge they will be forced to face once in the eighth grade.

Connected to the supply of qualified teachers is the important task of simply tracking teacher credential data and linking it to the state’s other data systems.  To try and address this issue, the state established the California Longitudinal Teacher Information Data Education System (CALTIDES) which will integrate teacher credential and authorization data to the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS).

CALTIDES will facilitate teacher assignment monitoring through automation, and enable monitoring of Highly Qualified Teacher requirements under No Child Left Behind. Data will be linked longitudinally using a unique, non-personally identifiable Statewide Educator Identifier.  CALTIDES implementation is projected to occur in 2010-11.

Implementation of such a complex data system will no doubt create challenges -- with the primary challenge being the ability of Local Education Agencies (LEAs) to collect sound data.  The California Dept. of Education is spearheading one possible problem through the Anomaly Detection and Resolution (ADAR) functionality in place to assist LEAs in identifying and resolving Statewide Student Identifier (SSID) anomalies.  Sound data and data collection will be key in determining our progress.

The CALPADS-CALTIDES system will enable the migration from the current numerous aggregate data collections to a flexible system based on quality student- and teacher-level data.

More importantly, CALTIDES will provide information that will help the state better anticipate and address teacher workforce issues, and will significantly enhance and streamline assignment monitoring and state and federal reporting.

Editor's Note: Aimee Scribner  is the Senior Legislative Coordinator for Governmental Solutions Group, LLC .  She is a former consultant to the Assembly Education Committee and a former teacher.