This just out: A study recently published by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Science determined that a fourth grade teacher’s general math knowledge does not necessarily translate to better outcomes for students.

For the study, 221 fourth grade teachers from five states were randomly chosen to either participate in 13 hours of professional development, meetings, coaching sessions, and analyzing student work, plus an 80-hour summer workshop to deepen their knowledge of K-8 math, not jut fourth grade–or not.

This, of course, matters even more in this Common Core age where rote memorization and procedures have been superseded by an emphasis on conceptual understanding of math and critical thinking.

As for the upshot:

  • On a test of math knowledge, participants bested non-participants by 7 points: 258 vs 551.
  • On an assessment of teachers’ ability to explain math concepts, participants scored 23 percentile points higher than the non-participants.

Sounds about as expected, no?

And yet, it turned out that those teachers now so well-grounded in K-8 math had NO actual impact on student achievement–at least no positive impact. That’s right: The students of the the participating teachers actually scored 2 percentile points LOWER than those of the control group.

So: Maybe it’s not just knowing a whole lot about numbers–or any other subject for that matter, either–that makes the difference, but how information is presented/shared. Content knowledge is essential, of course, but just maybe a teacher’s passion for that content, personality, patience, and heart need to be in the mix, as well?

That’s the ultimate question and possibly the key to effective instruction.