Despite repeated calls for improved scholarship and more empirically grounded policy recommendations, research into teacher learning has suffered from a number of chronic methodological difficulties. Most importantly, this research has been constrained by what scholars have been able to measure: the processes of teacher learning as they appear in in-services or study groups; teacher attitudes and beliefs which result from those processes; and, to some extent, teacher practices which emerge after such encounters. Left unmeasured, however, is a component which threads through all these observable outcomes and, ultimately, which proves the most significant target of interventions designed to improve teaching: teachers knowledge of content matter and content-specific teaching methods. Without direct measures of this knowledge, researchers have had few opportunities to learn which teacher education practices contribute to its development. In a recent review of teacher preparation, Wilson, Floden, and Ferrini-Mundy (2001) show the vast gaps in the field's knowledge of the content required for good teaching and of the ideal combination of pedagogical and content. The situation is equally weak with respect to knowledge about professional development (Wilson & Berne, 1999). The study we are proposing would aim to help redress the lack of disciplined study of teachers' learning.
The study will take advantage of measures developed recently at the Study of Instructional Improvement (Ball, Cohen & Rowan, Principal Investigators) to identify effective professional development practices, and pioneers new methods for evaluators and scholars in this field.
These items are designed to tap three constructs critical to teachers' capacity to deliver high-quality mathematics instruction to students: teachers ability to understand fundamental topics in elementary mathematics; teachers' ability to use mathematical knowledge to interpret students' thinking; and teachers' ability to make sound choices when faced with common problems of teaching mathematics. In all three cases, items are drawn from realistic dilemmas facing teachers of mathematics. The study will use these measures in a longitudinal study of programs designed to improve teachers' knowledge of mathematics and its teaching, tracking a large number of teachers before, during, and after their involvement with professional development, teacher-supportive curriculum materials, and innovative site-based initiatives. We will also use this opportunity to conduct a small validation study of our measures of mathematical learning opportunities and teachers' knowledge for teaching. Finally, we will interview and observe a small group of teachers before, during and after their participation in intensive mathematics professional development, hoping to better understand, from teachers' perspectives, what and how one can learn mathematics content for teaching.