Developing Subject Matter Knowledge in Mathematics Middle School Teachers: A Cross-National Study of Teacher Preparation as a Follow-Up of TIMSS

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

This is a small-scale international study to examine the preparation of middle school mathematics teachers. The study was conceived as a follow up to the 1995 Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) that documented that countries with higher achievement have teachers who teach substantially different content than that of their less accomplished counterparts. Participating countries represent a range of middle grades student achievement in large scale international studies such as TIMSS or PISA. The primary goal was to examine how middle school (lower secondary school internationally) mathematics teachers were prepared in the six countries.


This research took place in 32 colleges/universities that prepare mathematics teachers in six countries: Bulgaria, Germany, Mexico, South Korea, Taiwan, and the USA. 

Research Design: 

The research design for this project is cross-sectional, and is designed to generate descriptive data regarding learning opportunities in teacher preparation, as well as similarities and differences in teacher preparation across countries, and also to generate evidence that is associative/ correlational, looking at differences in attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge as a function of length of enrollment in teacher preparation and country.

This project collects original data using assessments of learning/achievement tests, and survey research including paper and pencil self-completion questionnaires. Three types of surveys were completed in each participating teacher preparation institution: an Institution survey, surveys for Future Teachers of Middle School Mathematics, and brief Educator surveys. Each Future Teacher form had 5 types of items: 1) general background; 2) opportunity to learn (OTL); 3) knowledge of mathematics and mathematics teaching; 4) beliefs about mathematics, teaching, and learning; and 5) knowledge about teaching. Educator surveys had questions about their beliefs and perspective on mathematics teaching and learning and their institution’s teacher preparation program. The Institution survey had questions about the structure, content, enrollment, graduation rates, and staffing of the teacher preparation program.

Analytic scales were created and analyzed using standard procedures. Summary statistics were computed on scales and other variables of interest and were compared across countries. Each participating country received a complete and cleaned data set of their own data. Each participating teacher preparation institution in the USA received a complete, cleaned data set of all the data collected on their own campus.


This project studied how well a sample of universities and teacher-training institutions prepare middle school math teachers in the U.S., South Korea, Taiwan, Germany, Bulgaria and Mexico. Specifically, 2,627 future teachers in their final year of teacher preparation were surveyed about their preparation, knowledge and beliefs in this area. The length of teacher preparation requirements varied from four to seven years among the countries. Compared to the other countries, the U.S. future teachers ranked from the middle to the bottom on the constructed measures of math knowledge.

Other findings include: i) The best area for future teachers in the U.S. was statistics knowledge, where they performed near the average across the six countries. ii) Taiwanese and South Korean future teachers typically covered about 80 percent or more of advanced math topics in their training, while those in Mexico and the U.S. covered less than 50 percent. iii) In the practical aspect of teaching, the extent of coverage for U.S. future teachers was also substantially less than that provided by Taiwan and South Korea. iv) Future U.S. middle school math teachers in the study are trained in three kinds of programs: secondary programs, elementary programs and those that specifically prepare middle school teachers. v) Those prepared as secondary teachers have a stronger math preparation. Those prepared as elementary teachers have stronger teaching skills preparation. Those that prepare specifically as middle school teachers seem to have the worst preparation as found in the other two types of programs.

Publications & Presentations: 

For project publications please see the following:



Other Products: 

The Future Teacher survey contained a section assessing students’ mathematics knowledge for teaching. All of these items and some of the belief and attitude scales were written collaboratively specifically for this research.