UChicago report reveals Illinois school leaders support new teaching credential for elementary math

October 27, 2020

A 2020 University of Chicago landscape study revealed that statewide, the vast majority of Illinois school district leaders and school leaders support new teaching credentials in Illinois for mathematics specialist teachers in the elementary grades.  

“In the elementary grades, mathematics is typically taught by generalist teachers who teach all subjects and often have limited formal background about the teaching and learning of mathematics. The study affirms that educational leaders throughout Illinois recognize that having mathematics specialists in the elementary grades—either to teach students directly or to help other teachers teach math better—has great potential to improve math instruction in their schools,” said Martin Gartzman, senior associate at UChicago STEM Education, a research and development center in the University of Chicago’s Physical Sciences Division.

The landscape study was conducted during spring and summer of 2019. In total, 153 school district leaders from districts in 44 counties completed a district survey, representing 20% of Illinois school districts and 40% of Illinois elementary school students from all regions of the state. An additional 110 local school leaders, mostly principals, responded to a separate school survey. 

teacher with two students at a table
Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Age

Leaders in school districts and local schools in all areas of the state overwhelmingly indicated that Illinois should establish the new teaching credentials for elementary mathematics specialist teachers, with 79% of school superintendents, 90% of principals, and nearly all curriculum directors expressing support for the new credentials.

The results showed that more than 95 percent of individuals responsible for curriculum and instruction in general, and mathematics in particular, want Illinois to offer the EMS endorsements. 

In Illinois, elementary school certification credentials already exist for reading teachers and specialists, but none exist for mathematics. Twenty states already have specific teaching credentials specialized for elementary mathematics teachers, with eight additional states, including Illinois, currently considering adding such certification credentials.

“Researchers here at the University of Chicago have shown that teachers who are uncomfortable with math can pass on their anxiety to their students. For more than 30 years, mathematics education professional organizations and other groups, including researchers at the University of Chicago, have been encouraging the use of mathematics specialist teachers as one solution to this problem. The landscape study affirmed that educational leaders throughout Illinois agree,” said Gartzman.

Since 2017, UChicago’s Department of Mathematics, in conjunction with UChicago STEM Education, has piloted a two-year program to prepare elementary mathematics specialists. Approximately 40 teachers have completed or are currently enrolled in UChicago’s program. The program, which was jointly developed with mathematics educators at the University of Illinois at Chicago and DePaul University, is also being piloted at those universities.

The landscape study documented that participants in the program saw a shift in their teaching responsibilities to more departmentalized teaching, where they taught more than one class of mathematics. They also were more likely than before to engage in mathematics leadership activities, and they expressed increased confidence about their knowledge and ability to teach mathematics effectively.

The study and pilot program were funded by the CME Group Foundation.

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