Teaching seen as crucial in countries in the top ranks

Associated Press


Countries that outpace the U.S. in education employ many strategies to help their students excel. They do, however, share one: They set high requirements to become a teacher, hold those who become one in high esteem and offer the instructors plenty of support.

On Wednesday and today, education leaders, including U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the nation’s largest teacher unions, and officials from the highest scoring countries, are meeting in New York to identify the best teaching practices.

The meeting comes after the recently released results of the Programme for International Student Assessment exam of 15-year-olds alarmed U.S. educators. Out of 34 countries, it ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math.

“On the one hand, the United States has a very expensive education system in international standards,” said Andreas Schleicher, who directs the exam. “On the other hand, it’s one of the systems where teachers get the lowest salaries.

“Then you ask yourself, how do you square those things?”

Schleicher co-authored a report released Wednesday in conjunction with the conference that concluded that for the U.S. to remain competitive, it must raise the status of the teaching profession. An additional report released by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, as well as the PISA exam, identified several effective practices observed in the top-performing regions and countries:

They draw teachers from the same pool of applicants as those from other selective professional careers.

Aspiring teachers in Singapore, for example, are selected from the top one-third of secondary-school graduating classes. They are given a monthly stipend while in schools, and starting salaries are competitive with other professional jobs.

Higher teacher salaries — rather than smaller class sizes — were a better indicator of student performance.

At the same time, it wasn’t an exclusive means of attracting the best into the profession and must be accompanied by support from school leaders and a work environment that values professional judgment rather than formulas.

Teachers are continually being trained and developing their skills as instructors.

Instructors are held accountable for student performance, but test results would be just one of a number of measures to determine student outcomes. Teachers welcome effective appraisal systems.

In many cases, countries with the highest student performance also had strong teacher unions. The unions also developed their research capacities, with international links and connections to ministries and universities.

In the U.S., part of the reason the standards to enter teaching are not higher stems from lingering fears over teacher shortages, like those seen during the 1950s when baby boomers were students and what may happen as they are retiring.

Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the Washington-based National Council on Teacher Quality, said the higher standards to enter the profession are critical to later success.

“Everything else is sort of a ripple effect,” she said.

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