This project, CEMENT (Culture of Evidence-based Mathematics Education for New Teachers), addresses a key identified need in Australia: the provision of quality teachers of mathematics at all levels of the pre-tertiary system through evidence-based improvement of pre-service teacher education programs.
It is timely in view of the recent development of national standards for Graduate Teachers and calls for greater accountability for tertiary institutions. The project will provide tools for universities to monitor their mathematics education courses in terms of students' outcomes, and processes to bring about changes based on the evidence collected. It will provide guidance to teacher education institutions about effective programs and a model for other disciplines to develop accountability tools.
Ultimately, the project will contribute to a national culture of evidence-based tertiary pre-service teacher education programs.
The CEMENT collaborative research project involves one university in each Australian state and territory:
In this way the project will have impact across Australia and provide state-based change leadership.
Background & Rationale
"Australia has gone backwards over the last 20 years in terms of the quality and quantity of students completing Year 12 mathematics." (p.3) "The quality of teachers is clearly of crucial importance." (p.7)
Review of Education in Mathematics, Data Science and Quantitative Disciplines: Report to the Group of Eight universities.
Ongoing and increasingly alarming calls for urgent action to address the shortage of mathematics teachers and improve the quality of mathematics teaching in Australia make the focus on mathematics teacher education crucial. In international studies, Australia has slipped in rankings over the period 1995 to 2007, especially at the Year 8 level where it is now outperformed significantly by the United States and England (Australian Council for Educational Research, 2009). The declining rates of participation in high level mathematics courses at Year 12 are threatening the nation's economic expansion with official estimates predicting a growth rate of 3.5% annually for mathematics and statistics graduates (Brown, 2009) which are unlikely to be met. Recent figures suggest that although participation in mathematics at Year 12 is high at around 90%, rates of uptake of top level courses has declined from 13.9 % of Year 12 students in 2001 to 11.6% in 2007 whereas in the lowest level courses participation rates over the same period rose from 42.3% to 46.4% (Ainley, Kos & Nicholas, 2008). Many teachers are teaching mathematics without a strong mathematical background (Brown, 2009; Human Capital Working Group, Council of Australian Governments (COAG), 2008; Thomas, 2000; Thomson & Fleming, 2004) and in view of the falling participation rates in high levels of mathematics, this is likely to continue.
The proposed project is also timely given the imminent implementation of National Professional Standards for Teaching (Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs (MCEEDYA, 2010)). The draft standards' focus on Professional Knowledge, Professional Practice and Professional Engagement will be mirrored in the tools used in CEMENT. The project outcomes will enable mathematics educators to lead the evidence-based evaluation, improvement, and ongoing monitoring that will need to characterise teacher education courses into the future. Existing tools currently used at the University of Tasmania will be adapted to align with the current draft standards, and then used and refined in this project within a recognised conceptual framework for the evaluation of pre-service education programs.
Australian institutions involved in the education of pre-service teachers provide a diverse range of courses that are informed largely by anecdotal evidence and research conducted elsewhere. The National Numeracy Review Report (COAG, 2008) pointed out: "There are many challenges in the pre-service education of mathematics teachers and many areas where the research knowledge is limited" (p. 71). Goos, Smith and Thornton (2008) indicated that there was a need for large-scale, national studies to establish evidence of best practice in mathematics teacher education. Courses vary in their structure, length and mode of delivery. There is a growing trend towards the use of distance learning technology (Holt & Challis, 2007). Some institutions offer post-graduate courses only while others offer 4-year undergraduate training, and some take account of existing professional experience in schools or training institutions. These pre-service courses attract students including those straight from Year 12, mature age students with no university background, career-change professionals, and para-professionals such as teacher aides seeking to upgrade their qualifications. Many of these students enter with weak mathematical backgrounds.
This project will address this lack of coherence in mathematics teacher preparation through provision of national benchmarks for graduate teachers of mathematics. Teacher education institutions will be able to use these benchmarks to assess local evidence to inform course design and monitor ongoing improvement. The focus is on preparation to teach mathematics in the middle years of schooling (Grades 4/5 to Grades 9/10) because there is evidence that it is in these years that the decline in interest in mathematics begins (Brown, 2009; McPhan, Morony, Pegg, Cooksey, & Lynch, 2008). By focussing on these grades, almost all pre-service teachers, their lecturers and tutors are included in the project.
CEMENT is funded by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) and directly addresses ALTC Priority 1, Academic Standards, assessment practices and reporting, and ALTC Priority 2, Curriculum renewal by establishing a national set of standards in relation to which universities will gather local data about their own students' performances.
Comparison data about each university's performance against that of all participating universities will lay down benchmarks for improvement, and sharing of best practice models in the teaching of pre-service teachers of mathematics will impact on academic standards and lead to evidence-based curriculum renewal.
"...the subject [mathematics] is taught reasonably well at technical level but not at the excitement level, and it's probably because many of the teachers are being asked to teach outside their own areas of expertise." Gavin Brown quoted in The Australian, 11 March 2010.
"In terms of school achievement in reading and mathematics in Year 9, students in initial teacher education were less likely than their peers in other courses to come from the highest achievement group (the difference is 20 compared to 36 per cent) and more likely to have been from the low or lowest groups (the difference was 35 compared to 19 per cent)." (Ainley, Kos & Nicholas, 2008, p. 58).
Ainley, J., Kos, J. & Nicholas, M. (2008). Participation in science, mathematics and technology in Australian education. Camberwell, VIC: Australian Council for Educational Research.
Australian Council for Educational Research (2009). Australia's performance in TIMSS 2007.
Brown, G. (2009). Review of education in mathematics, data science and quantitative disciplines: Report to the Group of Eight universities. Turner, ACT: Group of Eight.
Goos, M., Smith, T., & Thornton, S. (2008). Research on the pre-service education of teachers of mathematics. In H. Forgasz, A. Barkatsas, A. Bishop, B. Clarke, S. Keast, Wee Tiong Seah & P. Sullivan (Eds.), Research in Mathematics Education in Australasia 2004-2007. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.
Holt, D. & Challis, D. (2007). From policy to practice: One university's experience of implementing strategic change through wholly online teaching and learning. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 23(1), 110-131.
Human Capital Working Group, Council of Australian Governments, (2008). National numeracy review report. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
McPhan, G., Morony, W., Pegg, J., Cooksey, R. & Lynch, T. (2008). Maths? Why not? Canberra: Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.
Thomas, J. (2000). Mathematical sciences in Australia: Looking for a future. FASTS Occasional Paper Series, No.3. Canberra: Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies.
Thomson, S., & Fleming, N. (2004). Summing it up: Mathematics achievement in Australian schools. TIMSS 2002 (TIMSS Australia Monograph no. 6). Melbourne: ACER.