Two studies that measure math knowledge -- the Program on International Assessment (PISA) and Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) -- offer very different assessments of U.S. student math skills. PISA says the U.S. is 35th out of 57 with an average score below that of industrialized nations participating in the study. TIMSS says the U.S. ranks 9th out of 48 with a score above the average. So what's the real story? Because 22 countries who had PISA scores higher than the U.S. did not participate in the TIMSS study, most analysts believe the U.S. ranks below its peers when it comes to math. Consequently, math education has become a hot button issue in the U.S. education community.
How to Become a Math Teacher
Teaching math generally requires a bachelor's degree plus graduation from an approved teacher education program. A state-issued license is required to teach elementary, middle or high school, and some states require teachers to obtain a master's degree while teaching. A master's degree in math is required to teach at junior colleges, and a doctoral degree in math is most often required to teach at four-year colleges and graduate schools.
Online education degrees in math combine advanced knowledge of all branches of mathematics with instruction in pedagogy, child development and teaching methodologies. Both campus-based and online degrees in math education are likely to also require some student-teaching experience in front of a classroom.
Who Is the Right Fit for a Math Education Degree?
The mathematical personality stereotype of someone who thinks only in abstract terms, is out of touch with the real world, and unable to communicate may describe some mathematical individuals, but is certainly not accurate across the board. Those who love math generally are creative, original thinkers. They have excellent deductive reasoning skills, have highly-developed data analysis and problem solving skills, and are generally computer literate.
In almost all math-related occupations, communication skills are crucial. Math educators in particular need to be skilled at communicating complex mathematical concepts in terms their students can understand. An ability to break a problem down into smaller parts and explain things in ways that appeal to different learning styles is also important.
Careers in Math Education: Salary and Employment Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports 2010 mean annual wages and projected employment growth from 2008-18 for the following mathematical teaching careers:
- Elementary school: $54,330 (16 percent growth)
- Middle school: $54,880 (15 percent)
- Secondary school: $55,990 (9 percent)
(Statistics exclude special education and vocational teachers.)
The BLS projects overall employment growth from 2008-2018 for postsecondary professors and instructors at 15 percent. Salaries vary greatly depending on the type of educational institution and location, but mathematical science professors earned mean annual wages of $73,480 in 2010, according to the BLS.
A 2008 report to Congress from the federal Domestic Social Policy Division expressed a growing concern that "the United States is not preparing a sufficient number of students, teachers and practitioners in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)." Consequently, the U.S. is lagging behind other industrialized nations. To encourage more people to enter these fields, including mathematics, the federal government is actively recruiting more teachers and offering scholarships and graduate fellowships in STEM fields. Today may be the perfect time to look at campus and online degrees in math education and become that math teacher or professor that students remember.
Math education at a glance:
- Demand: Dedicated math teachers are needed. U.S. students lag behind those from other countries in math skills.
- Growth: Almost 250,000 new elementary school teachers are projected to be needed by 2018.
- Geography: Highest concentration of mathematical science professors is in North Carolina, with 2,170 employed in the state.
Online Master's Degrees in Math Education
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there is a very low percentage of workers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers. As a result, mathematics teachers can play a crucial role in preparing more students for STEM-related jobs. Online master's degrees in math education can help train these professionals so that they are able to in turn train the workforce of tomorrow. Core curriculum in these programs often emphasizes how to provide meaningful instruction to students in different areas of mathematics, including geometry, algebra, and calculus. Students can also expect to learn how to create course curriculums that encourage the best student outcomes, as well as information on research that guides the mathematics education field.
What Does a Master's Degree Program in Math Education Entail?
Although programs may vary, students enrolled in an online degree program in math education can generally expect to complete their degree program in about two years. Coursework is designed to prepare future educators to teach mathematics based on their state requirements and to create courses that help their own students learn the fundamentals of mathematics. Additionally, this program teaches students about the foundations of mathematical theory and the research that guides the field. Examples of course topics include:
- Assessments in Math Education: This course teaches the theory and practice of student assessments. Course topics often include the types of assessments that can be used in a math classroom; local, national, and international assessment tools; the relationship between student assessments and student achievement; the role that assessments play in a teacher's growth; formal and informal assessment tests that can be administered; and how the data obtained from assessment tests can be used to affect student outcomes. Students in this course can also learn about the software used to calculate and report assessment test results. Students can gain hands-on experience with the course material by designing an assessment test based on a specific school's objectives or creating case studies that show how teachers can use assessment tests to improve their own classroom skills.
- The History of Mathematics: In order to get a holistic view of the mathematics field, this course teaches students mathematical theories throughout the ages. Course topics typically include the development of mathematics, accomplishments that noted mathematicians have made in the field, and seminal mathematical theories. In addition, students will learn concepts applicable to specific areas of mathematics, including calculus, trigonometry, geometry, and algebra. Students in this course may be required to teach a hypothetical mathematics class based on a specific mathematical theory, develop the curriculum for a math course, or create a timeline illustrating historical milestones in the mathematics field.
- Research in Mathematics Teaching: This class gives students an overview of the research that has been done in the mathematics education field. Students may be required to read and analyze seminal research conducted in the field, as well as evaluate and interpret that research based on state and federal education practices. Additionally, students may learn the methodologies used to conduct research and the impact that mathematics education research has on student outcomes. This class may require students to create a curriculum for a hypothetical math class based on a specific research principle taught in the course, participate in a mathematics teaching research project, or construct case studies that analyze the methodologies used in published research papers from various professional journals.
Before graduating, students in an online master's degree program in math education may need to complete a master's thesis or pass a comprehensive examination that covers the material from the entire program.
Career Outlook for Graduates of Master's Degree Programs in Math Education
There are a number of teaching and non-teaching careers that graduates with a master's degree in math education can pursue. Those interested in teaching careers should keep in mind that they may need to pass a licensing examination, depending on which state they reside in.
One career that graduates can pursue is teaching middle school mathematics at a private or public institution. These professionals have a number of responsibilities both inside and outside of the classroom, including creating grade-appropriate lesson plans for their courses, supervising students during lunch periods or detention, creating and enforcing classroom rules, grading students' tests and assignments in order to monitor their progress, and preparing students for standardized tests. These educators also keep parents abreast of their children's progress in the classroom. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (the BLS), this career is on the rise, and will likely experience a 12 percent increase in available jobs between 2012 and 2022.
Another career that graduates with math education degrees can pursue is instructional coordinator, which, according to the BLS, is expected to increase by 13 percent between 2012 and 2022. These professionals help to develop the curriculum for school districts, provide mentoring for teachers in order to help them improve their classroom skills, choose textbooks and other educational materials that are used in a school district's classrooms, oversee professional development opportunities for teachers, and train teachers on technologies that can be used in the classroom. Instructional coordinators are also typically responsible for making sure their district schools adhere to the federal, state, and local regulations that govern educators.
Other options for those with a master's degree in mathematics education include teaching math to students in elementary school, high school, and college.
"Instructional Coordinators," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/instructional-coordinators.htm
"Math Education Careers," University of Cincinnati, http://mastersed.uc.edu/masters-degree-in-education-online-programs/stem-science-technology-engineering-mathematics-teacher-degree/stem-resources/math-education-careers/, Accessed August 10, 2013
"Mathematics Education Degrees & Programs," Indiana University, http://education.indiana.edu/graduate/programs/mathematics/, Accessed August 10, 2013
"Middle School Teachers," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/middle-school-teachers.htm