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Source: IEA. (2012). Policy, Practice and Readiness to Teach Primary and Secondary Mathematics in 17 Countries.

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Recently, the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) released a study on teacher preparation in seventeen countries.  This study, Policy, Practice, and Readiness to Teach Primary and Secondary Mathematics in 17 Countries [1], focuses, as its title suggests, on how these nations prepare their mathematics teachers.  However, the discussion of preparation for teaching mathematics is part of a larger analysis of how well these countries prepare all of their teachers, and the IEA devotes much of the first part of the study to general measures of teacher preparation.  One component of teacher preparation systems that was of particular interest to the study’s authors is the quality assurance mechanisms that countries use to recruit, select, place, and certify teaching candidates as well as certify teacher education programs.  The IEA examined these mechanisms at multiple points in the teacher preparation pathway.  They then rated the overall quality assurance system in each country they studied using three values: low, moderate and high.

The five central measures that makeup the overall quality assurance rating in this study are:

  1. Control over the supply of teacher education students.  The authors define this as the amount of government control over the number of available places in teacher education programs.
  2. Promotion of teaching as an attractive career.  The study defines this measure as the policies a country has established to “maintain and promote the appeal of teaching relative to other career choices.”  These policies tend to center on things like job security, benefits and pensions.
  3. Selection standards for entry into teacher education.  This is a measure of the requirements in place for candidates to enter teacher education, ranging from previous educational experience (including specific mathematics requirements) to other measurements of rigor.
  4. Accreditation of teacher education programs.  This is defined as the presence and oversight of an external agency (either a government agency or an independent statutory body) responsible for monitoring teacher education programs.
  5. Entry to the teaching profession.  These are the policies a country has in place to “ensure that graduates are competent and qualified” before they are certified and begin work as a teacher, such as a certification exam.

The IEA rated the participating countries in each of these categories, and then used these ratings to establish the relative strength of a country’s quality assurance program.  The majority (10) of the countries fell into the “moderate” range, with three of those classified as either moderate/low or moderate/high.  An additional five countries (Chile, Georgia, Oman, Philippines and Thailand) were classified as having “low” overall quality assurance.  Teacher program accreditation seems to be the policy area in which most countries have policies in place, with 12 of the 17 having at least “moderate” policies in place to oversee their teaching training organizations.  Four countries (Chinese Taipei, Oman, Malaysia and Singapore) had “high” control over the supply of teacher education students, which was the highest concentration of the “high” rating across the categories.  This did not always translate into positive overall ratings, however.  Oman, which has high control over the number of teaching students, has an overall rating of “low.” We have selected a representative sample of the countries in the graphic above, including top performers Singapore and Canada, as well as the United States.

Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) is the only country that received a rating of “high” in every category, though Singapore also received an overall rating of “high,” with only their policies concerning entry into the teaching profession being deemed “moderate” in terms of quality assurance.  While Taiwan ranked 23rd in reading and 12th in science in the most recent PISA administration, the average student’s math score placed this country in the top five in that subject.  According to the study, their requirements for entry into teacher preparation programs indicate why their students perform so well in math: in order to enter a program for primary-level teacher education, a candidate must not only graduate from secondary school, but must also have completed one year of post-secondary studies and pass a national university entrance examination that requires math as a subject area.  No other country in this study – not even Singapore – has such stringent requirements for their primary school teachers.  That being said, Singapore has a highly centralized teacher education system, with numerous policies in place to ensure that they produce high-quality teachers, managed by the National Institute of Education (NIE).  The authors of this study point especially to Singapore’s efforts to make teaching an attractive profession, which include covering the tuition for teacher training programs at the university level as well as paying students a stipend to cover living expenses while they are training to become teachers.  And despite having one of the top teaching forces in the world, Singapore is consistently innovating their teacher education programs.  The NIE introduced a new Teacher Education Model for the 21st Century (TE21) in 2008 and since then, teacher education includes a 10-22 week practicum and a structured mentorship program and a formal effort to share best practices with one another,

Both the US and Canada are ranked as “moderate” overall, but the countries have very different student performance as measured by international assessments like PISA with Canada ranking ahead of the United States in all subjects.  That being said, in the category of “entry into teacher education,” which includes the sub-categories of control over supply of teacher education students, selection standards for entry, and promotion of teaching as an attractive career, Canada receives ratings of “moderate,” “low,” and “high,” respectively, while the US receives ratings of “low” in all three categories, and earns its overall moderate rating with ratings of “moderate” in the categories of entry into the teaching profession and teacher education program accreditation – perhaps suggesting that controlling entry into teacher education programs is one of the more important factors supporting student success.  The data speaks to the interconnectedness of the various components of the teacher education and accreditation system, and begins to suggest how these various moving parts can affect the outcomes of the education system.,  The authors of the study conclude that there is a “substantial relationship” between the strength of quality assurance systems in teacher education and the quality of graduates, as measured by TEDS-M tests, but stop short of drawing links between the strength of quality assurance systems and student achievement; instead, they suggest that this relationship is ripe for further research and analysis.

In our own international benchmarking efforts of the top performing countries, we have found that countries whose students perform at high levels on international assessments invest in the quality of their teaching force by having very high standards for entering teachers’ colleges – as high as the standards for getting into their high status professional schools; insisting that all of their teachers, even at the primary level, have specific training in their subjects; requiring their teachers to spend at least a year as a practice teacher before becoming licensed, and afterwards, apprenticing them to a master teacher; and paying their beginning teachers salaries comparable to beginning salaries in other highly-educated fields such as engineering.

These are, of course, different criteria than those used by the IEA and would have produced different rankings.  Had our criteria been used, Canada would have come out considerably better than the United States, and there would have been better alignment between the scores on this study and the OECD league tables of student performance, at least for these two nations.  All of which suggests the need for research examining the characteristics of national systems for teacher quality and the way different combinations of policies and practices in such systems produce variations in the quality of teachers available to national school systems.

[1] The participating nations were Botswana, four Canadian provinces (Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Ontario), Chile, Chinese Taipei, Georgia, Germany, Malaysia, Norway, Oman, Philippines, Poland, the Russian Federation, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand and the United States.