Family Background, Entry Selectivity and Opportunities to Learn: What Matters in Primary Teacher Education? An International Comparison of Fifteen Countries

Jan. 02, 2012

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 28, Issue 1, January 2012, p. 44-55.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article examines the effectiveness of teacher education programs from fifteen countries with respect to mathematics content knowledge (MCK) and mathematics pedagogical content knowledge (MPCK) as cognitive outcomes after equalizing their teacher intake.


The authors examine three hypotheses:
1. They hypothesize that opportunities to learn (OTL) matter for teacher education outcomes.
Specifically, the authors expect that across the fifteen TEDS-M countries OTL in mathematics and mathematics pedagogy as well as research-based learning during primary teacher education significantly predict outcomes in terms of MCK and MPCK.

2. At the same time, the authors suppose that background matters for teacher education outcomes.
In particular, they hypothesize significant effects of participants' demographic background on the acquisition of MCK and MPCK.
These demographic background included the following variables:
gender (in favor of males), socio-economic status (in favor of higher SES) and language background (in favor of first-language learners), prior generic and domain-specific knowledge (in favor of those primary teachers with higher perceived high-school achievement), and motivation (in favor of those with higher altruistic-pedagogical and subject-related motives and lower extrinsic motives).

Finally, the authors hypothesize that OTL effects are partly mediated by differential teacher intake.

The participants were about 14 000 future primary teachers from 527 teacher education programs in fifteen countries were tested on their MCK and MPCK in a standardized paper-and pencil assessment.
All countries had to meet the quality requirements of the IEA as known from studies like TIMSS.

The participating countries in the TEDS-M primary study were:
Botswana, Chile, Germany, Georgia, Malaysia, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and USA.


Data from the comparative TEDS-M study revealed that the mathematics content knowledge (MCK) and the mathematics pedagogical content knowledge (MPCK) of primary teachers differed significantly at the end of teacher education between the participating countries and between teacher education programs within countries.

The findings reveal that the second hypothesis that teacher background generally influenced the outcomes of teacher education was only partly supported by the data.
Gender turned out to be an important individual characteristic but only with respect to the acquisition of MCK and not with respect to MPCK.

Against this hypothesis, the language background of the teachers and their parents’ education were relevant neither for MCK nor for MPCK.

In contrast, the data strongly confirmed the hypotheses that the perceived high-school achievement as well as the number of mathematics classes at school significantly correlate with MCK and MPCK.

With respect to program characteristics, the data supported the hypotheses that OTL and teacher intake are highly relevant to teacher education outcomes.
Furthermore, it was found that OTL in mathematics pedagogy were an important feature here and thus had an indirect effect on MCK and MPCK.

For achieving an increase of teacher education effectiveness, this study points to two potential measures.
First, providing OTL in mathematics and mathematics pedagogy as well as increasing entrance selectivity may have positive consequences for the outcomes of primary teacher education and thus in the long run for student achievement in mathematics.
Mathematics is one of the most important school subjects and a gatekeeper to academic and professional success. Investments in the training of teachers should therefore pay off quickly.

Second, the entrance selectivity is a sensitive issue.
However, higher selectivity may increase the reputation of the profession in the long run so that institutions can recruit from a larger pool.

The authors also found a huge between-program disparity which existed within almost all countries.
This means that within the same cultural context some institutions are doing better than others.

Updated: Oct. 29, 2013