Teacher and teaching quality in the world’s top-performing education systems

The National Center on Education and the Economy’s (NCEE) Center on International Education Benchmarking (CIEB) has recently published Empowered Educators: How High-Performing Systems Shape Teaching Quality Around the World—an international comparative study of teacher and teaching quality in the world’s top-performing education systems. To explore and share the findings of this research, the NCEE held a conference featuring presentations and panel conversations with several of the authors of the study, including Linda Darling-Hammond, A. Lin Goodwin, Karen Hammerness, Misty Sato, Dion Burns, and Ann McIntyre.

Marc Tucker, president and CEO of NCEE moderated the event, and Andreas Schleicher from OECD and policymakers and educators from the US also provided their perspective. The conference was also streamed live and can be viewed online.

Linda Darling-Hammond launched this three-year study from the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) at Stanford University with a team of education researchers from several different parts of the world. The study focused on the policies related to teachers and teaching quality in seven jurisdictions across four continents including Shanghai, Finland, Singapore, and Australia.  According to the study, these seven jurisdictions that have demonstrated higher achievement and greater equity than the U.S. have focused on building effective systems, rather than on narrow solutions and have made a commitment to professionalizing teaching as an occupation.

During the conference, researchers expanded on how these countries have achieved their success.  While each jurisdiction takes a somewhat different approach, the conversation highlighted that:

  • Recruitment and selection processes help to identify teacher candidates who are both talented academically and have a passion for teaching
  • Teacher education takes place in research universities, combining rigorous coursework and substantial practical experience in schools
  • Standards support professional development and career ladders create new options for expert teachers

Notably, in most of these countries teacher education is free and new teachers start their jobs with no burden of student loans.

When asked about the potential of and challenges for the U.S., Andreas Schleicher remarked that the U.S. has invested heavily in education, but that teacher pay, professional development and career structures have not received as much financial support as other issues like class size. Schleicher also argued that in higher performing countries it’s not just about giving teachers a higher salary; it’s about making teaching an intellectual profession, accompanied by a sense of agency and autonomy, that offers opportunities for learning and growth over time.

In subsequent conversations, questions were raised about the ability of states to take the same systemic approach and make the same significant investment that these jurisdictions have made in teacher education and teaching.  In response, panelists pointed to examples of states like Connecticut and Massachusetts that have invested heavily in teacher preparation and professional development and have high levels of student achievement.  Ryan Wise, Director of the Iowa Department of Education, also described how Iowa has already set aside 50 million a year for planning grants for schools and districts to develop teacher learning and leadership opportunities.

Beyond the event itself, discussions took place on Twitter (#empowerededucators) and Checker Finn, President Emeritus of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, has already published a critique of the study, with Marc Tucker posting a response on his EdWeek blog.

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