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Jennifer Craw NDround
by Jennifer Craw and Nathan Driskell

Common among top performing jurisdictions are policies and practices that recruit, prepare, train, compensate and retain high quality teachers. The Center on International Education Benchmarking is looking deeply at how top performers do this, and in particular, we have funded a major study to benchmark teacher quality systems in top performing education systems. That study is now well underway at Stanford’s Center on Opportunity Policy in Education and led by Linda Darling-Hammond.  In addition, CIEB has surveyed four of the top performing education systems based on their performance on PISA 2012, two from Asia (Shanghai and Singapore), one from North America (Ontario, Canada) and one from Europe (Finland) and compared those teacher quality systems against the United States and the top three US states as measured by NAEP. In all four of the international jurisdictions we surveyed, there were four indicators that helped to ensure a sufficient high qualify teaching force:

  1. Monitoring supply and demand to try and avoid surpluses or deficits of teachers;
  2. Setting competitive requirements for entry into preparation programs so programs attract candidates who are academically qualified and passionate about teaching;
  3. Offering teacher preparation at high-status research universities that have a program of study that blends theory, practice, an in-depth mastery of content aligned to core curriculum, and qualitative and quantitative research in education;
  4. Controlling for the quality of preparation by limiting the number of institutions authorized to prepare teachers, while not accepting alternative forms of preparation.

The chart below looks at the first of these policies, monitoring the supply and demand of teachers, and the results compared to one top performing state in the U.S., Massachusetts.

TeachersProgramsStudentsMassachusetts has 953,000 students in its public schools, somewhere between Singapore’s 522,000 and Shanghai’s 1,837,800. And Massachusetts trains just over 4,000 teachers per year while Singapore trains about 2,000 and Shanghai about 9,500. The striking difference here is that Massachusetts trains its teachers in 82 separate teacher training programs, housed not only in community colleges and universities, but also in a wide range of alternative certificate programs based in nonprofits, charter schools, and school districts. In Singapore there is only one teacher-training program, at the National Institute of Education at Nanyang Technological University. Entry into this program is competitive, with only about 20 percent of applicants being admitted. Likewise, in Finland, there are only eight teacher training programs, each housed in competitive research universities and with acceptance rates even lower than Singapore: roughly 10 percent of applicants are admitted into teacher-training programs in Finland. Ontario’s 17 teacher-training programs have an acceptance rate of about 17 percent, and Shanghai’s two teacher training programs have an acceptance rate of about 27.5 percent. Meanwhile in the United States, teacher education programs are struggling to fill their available spaces, and most have acceptance rates of about 100 percent. This means that while the top performers are able to select the best candidates from a competitive pool of applicants, thereby ensuring a higher level of teacher quality right from the beginning, the United States has no such quality assurance in its teacher education programs.

AcceptanceratesAnother striking difference between the United States and the international jurisdictions is that while the top performers each have some method for monitoring and controlling the supply and demand of teachers who are trained, U.S. states do not. Both Finland and Singapore conduct supply and demand studies regularly (annually in Singapore; biannually in Finland), and the Ministry of Education in each is authorized to adjust available slots in teacher education accordingly. In Ontario and Shanghai, teacher supply and demand studies are less frequent and conducted as needed rather than on a regular schedule. Recently, studies have resulted in dramatic cuts to the number of seats available in teacher preparation: Ontario cut its seats in half (effective 2015), while Shanghai cut them by approximately 60 percent in 2013.

5yearRetentionThis rigorous teacher selection process, beyond producing a higher quality of new teachers right out of university, also contributes to a higher rate of teacher retention. In each of the top performing jurisdictions, teacher retention after 5 years was at or above 97 percent. While in the U.S., estimates for teacher retention after five years range between 50-83 percent. That means that while the top performers are able to select, train and retain the very best applicants to be teachers, in the United States we train anyone who applies regardless of the number of open teaching positions and, when half of new teachers leave the profession within five years, we do it all over again. For more on the teacher training policy in the United States and how we can better align our system to those of the top performing countries, see Marc Tucker’s blog, Federal Policy on Teacher Quality: Is Accountability the Answer?