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IMPROVING TEACHER QUALITY AROUND THE WORLD: New Report Shares Lessons from Two-Day International Summit on Teaching Profession

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“The practices of top-performing countries can help America accelerate student achievement and elevate the teaching profession."

As part of a two-day summit in New York City in March, education ministers, teachers, union leaders, and other education experts from sixteen high-performing and rapidly improving countries and regions gathered to discuss how education systems recruit, develop, and keep enough highly effective teachers necessary to prepare all students for the fast-changing, knowledge-based global economy.1  A new report released in early June by the U.S. Department of Education and Asia Society outlines discussions held at the summit and shares lessons from around the world on how to strengthen the teaching profession.

“The practices of top-performing countries can help America accelerate student achievement and elevate the teaching profession,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “The lessons outlined in the International Summit on the Teaching Profession report reinforce the understanding of education leaders around the world that a high-quality teaching profession is built on common principles and cornerstones in different education systems.”

The summit sought to shine a spotlight on the teaching profession; identify and share the world’s best policies and practices in developing a high-quality profession; examine ways of engaging teachers in education reform; and initiate an ongoing international dialogue on the teaching profession. The report, Improving Teacher Quality Around the World: The International Summit on the Teaching Profession, focuses on four overarching themes from the summit: (1) teacher recruitment and preparation; (2) development, support, and retention of teachers; (3) teacher evaluation and compensation; and (4) teacher engagement in education reform.

The report notes that many countries, including Brazil, the People’s Republic of China, Japan, and the United States, among others, are “deeply concerned” about current or potential widespread teacher shortages, especially in certain subjects or within certain geographic areas or demographic groups. As the report explains, some countries have responded to shortages by lowering standards for entering teachers while others have experienced success with recruitment efforts targeted at specific groups. However, high-performing countries such as Finland and Hong Kong pay significant attention to attracting, selecting, and preparing high-quality teachers. As the report explains, Hong Kong defines proper entry requirements, recruits the best potential teachers and trains them well, and creates an attractive, professional working environment.

The report describes how Finland has transformed itself from a timber and agriculture–based economy to a modern, technology-based economy, and has done so largely on the strength of its teachers. In Finland, only one in ten applicants is accepted into a program to become a primary school teacher. Applicants must go through two rounds of selection by the university, and then must complete a rigorous teacher-education program supported by the government.

The report notes that China places a strong emphasis on professional development for teachers in rural areas. In 2010 alone, 1.1 million teachers received professional development, with an emphasis on twenty-three provinces in central and western China. To help reach teachers in rural areas, China makes extensive use of technology to support teachers through satellite-based transmission of training and professional-development programs led by master teachers. In Shanghai, where students had the highest overall performance in reading, math, and science, every teacher must have several open classes each year so that other teachers—including trainees—can learn from them.

The report also notes that there was “clear agreement” among summit participants on the importance of support and mentoring for teachers in their first year or two of teaching. However, it also noted that the proportion of beginning teachers who do not receive mentoring and induction “varies enormously between the countries represented at the Summit from less than 10 percent to more than 70 percent.”

Discussion on teacher evaluation and compensation focused on Singapore’s Advanced Performance Management System, which is not intended to calibrate teacher ability or rank teachers. Instead, it is used to assess key competencies such as the role of teachers in the academic and character development of their students, the pedagogic initiatives and innovations teachers have developed, and their contribution to their colleagues and the school, among others. In Singapore, the report notes, learning outcomes are defined broadly and not just by examination results, and the evaluation process is meant to “create a regular dialogue between teacher and supervisor that is frequent, clear, and detailed regarding ways the teacher can improve.”

When talking about teacher engagement in education reform, the report highlights Norway where the Norwegian teachers’ union, which represents 85 percent of teachers, worked with the national government to redesign national tests. It also spotlights what Secretary Duncan characterized as the “tough-minded collaboration” between management and teachers’ unions in the United States to improve student achievement, with Duncan saying that the United States needs to engage teachers on a wider scale if it is to get all schools to where they need to be.

“The report concludes that achieving consistency in teaching quality has become central to the agenda of every country,” said Vivien Stewart, author of the report and senior advisor for education at the Asia Society. “To make progress, governments and teachers’ organizations will need to work together, as they did at the summit, to invent a new vision for the teaching profession.”

Stewart notes that the report is not meant to be a proceeding of the summit, but that it does try to capture the main issues that arose during the discussions. She suggests that the report be read in conjunction with Building a High-Quality Teaching Profession: Lessons from Around the World , a more detailed report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that frames the discussion during the summit and describes the international evidence base, general principles, best practices, and innovations in the field of teaching.

Improving Teacher Quality Around the World: The International Summit on the Teaching Profession is available athttp://asiasociety.org/files/lwtw-teachersummitreport0611.pdf.

1 Participating countries and regions at the summit were Belgium, Brazil, Canada, the People’s Republic of China, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Hong Kong SAR, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Singapore, Slovenia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

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