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New ASU degree helps meet critical demand for high school math teachers

math on chalkboard
March 18, 2014

Arizona State University is gearing up to produce more and better-prepared high school math teachers, addressing a critical need in classrooms around the state and the nation. The School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences is offering a new bachelor’s degree in mathematics, with a concentration in secondary education, which will provide a new pathway for teaching careers. The degree allows deeper mastery of mathematics coupled with the ability to handle the challenges of a high school classroom.

Arizona is suffering a teacher crisis. According to a recent Arizona School Administrators survey of district administrators, 62 percent said they have teacher openings, and over 62 percent have teachers leaving already this school year.

Susan Carlson, executive director of the Arizona Business and Education Coalition, emphasizes that quality teachers are important. “Research says that the quality of teaching is the number one influence on the learning of children, and will either advance them or hold them back,” said Carlson. “There is a growing consensus here in Arizona that teacher talent is the key variable in producing 'A' schools, present and aspiring.”

In the Phoenix Union High School District, math teachers are always high on the list of “must-have” hires. The district had to fill more than 25 math openings, and in some cases had to resort to hiring retired teachers to fill the void.

“Obviously, we are always in need of good math teachers, especially with the state raising the math requirement for graduation to four years,” said district spokesman Craig Pletenik. “We like the idea of bringing individuals with strong content knowledge to the teaching field.”

National education groups echo this sentiment. Change the Equation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, CEO-led initiative that is mobilizing the business community to improve the quality of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) learning in the United States.

“Our STEM Vital Signs report for Arizona found that the state needs more teachers with a strong background in STEM content and pedagogy, particularly in math,” stated Linda P. Rosen, chief executive office for Change the Equation. “We recommend strategies that include requiring teachers to demonstrate a stronger grasp of content, while broadening the supply of teachers who can clear the hurdles. Arizona should create more pathways into teaching for STEM majors in college.”

This new bachelor’s degree in mathematics, with a concentration in secondary education, will offer exactly that – a new pathway into teaching for math majors at ASU. “We want to produce expert mathematicians who have the preparation to be excellent teachers,” says Fabio Milner, professor of mathematics and director of mathematics for STEM education.

Pat Thompson, a professor in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, researches how students learn and how teachers teach mathematics. “A principal problem in the quality of the teachers’ mathematical preparation is that they leave high school with little understanding of the mathematics they studied. The result is that students are ill-prepared to understand university-level mathematics, and they return to high school (as teachers) having never revisited the ideas of high school mathematics that they never understood in the first place.

“The result is a vicious cycle wherein poorly educated high school students return as teachers, who have no greater insight into the secondary mathematics curriculum than when they completed high school.”

The new degree, which is available now, hopes to break this vicious cycle by focusing on teachers’ mathematical preparation for teaching high school mathematics. Professor Marilyn Carlson says the new ASU degree stands out for its sequencing of courses, "which is designed so students will understand the processes of learning, understanding and teaching mathematics, and the intricacies of supporting students to become competent and confident mathematical thinkers. Students will have a coherent set of courses and instructional experiences to assure that they develop the deep understandings and connections needed to be highly effective mathematics teachers. They will emerge from our program equipped to provide mathematics instruction that is coherent, meaningful and challenging."

“The mathematics education faculty members within our school form an extremely talented group with many connections to school districts in Arizona,” stated Al Boggess, director of the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences. “Working collaboratively with these districts, this degree program will provide the graduates who are needed to improve secondary education in mathematics for Arizona.”

Another advantage of the new degree, according to Thompson, is that students will have all the options that come with a bachelor's in mathematics and a bachelor's in education – graduate school in mathematics or mathematics education, jobs in industry or in industrial education, or teaching high school mathematics.

Admission applications are currently being accepted and will continue to be accepted on a rolling basis. For more information, visit or call (480) 965-7195.