High standards for teacher preparation programs, expecting educators to become scholars of teaching and substantial time for collaboration with peers are a few of the elements that set the teaching profession in high-performing countries apart from that of the U.S., Linda Darling-Hammond, executive director of the Learning Policy Institute, told state lawmakers this week in Los Angeles.
Gathered for the National Conference of State Legislatures’ (NCSL) annual summit, legislators and educators who also serve in their state legislature listened to Darling-Hammond, based at Stanford University in California, describe what countries such as Finland, Singapore, China and some Canadian provinces do to ensure teacher quality as well as retention.
Toronto, Ontario, she said, now has a four-year induction program, and 98% of teachers are still in the classroom after four years. Teachers in Singapore have to pass performance tasks and tests and then work under the guidance of a mentor to determine if they have the right “disposition” for teaching. And those who want to teach in Finland work in “partner schools” connected to research universities, similar to a medical model.
“The implication of all that is they put a lot of energy on the front end, but then they don’t worry about evaluating people out of the profession,” said Darling-Hammond, who has also worked with NCSL’s International Education Study Group, which has examined other countries' education policies, including how to make teaching a respected profession, and is sharing that information with legislators across the country.
It’s widely known that teachers in some Asian countries spend more time collaborating with peers and conducting research on teaching than their counterparts in the U.S. They are able to do this because they have somewhat larger average class sizes than the U.S., as well as fewer non-instructional personnel in schools, Darling-Hammond said, adding that U.S. teachers spend 27 hours per week on average with students, compared to 19 internationally.
“That extra eight hours is what allows people to get really expert at their craft,” she said.
Shanghai, she said, even has teaching competitions, in which teachers are scored and advance through the process based on 21st century teaching skills they want all schools to embrace.
“We have Iron Chef and Ninja Warrior," she said, "but we don’t have teaching competitions."
‘The same recipe’
Darling-Hammond responded to some of the issues lawmakers said they are experiencing in their states, such as beginning teachers leaving after a few years, a lack of reciprocity across state lines — which discourages teachers from staying in the profession — and the impact of poverty, divorce and other social issues outside of the classroom.
The Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium, a project of the Council of Chief State School Officers, is one example of cross-state collaboration that removes barriers for teachers who want to work in another state, but more work in this area is needed, Darling-Hammond said.
She agreed that the U.S. does have increasing child poverty, homelessness and social issues that impede children’s ability to learn. She cited community schools and wraparound health and social services as an approach that can address some of these challenges, but also added, “the more training teachers get, the more they are able to deal with the variety of experiences kids bring.”
Darling-Hammond also highlighted a recently released Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development report, which finds three common teacher-related policies that contribute to high student achievement — ideally a full year of clinical experience, a variety of tailored professional development opportunities and evaluation that is focused on continuous improvement.
Many states, she said, are already instituting programs and policies that mirror what the countries she has studied are doing. She noted, for example, the Denver Public Schools’ effort to give novice teachers less of a teaching load in their first year and more time observing and learning from teacher mentors. Several states, she said, are recruiting more young people into the profession through loan forgiveness and residency programs.
U.S. states with the highest scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, such as Connecticut and Massachusetts, have improved teaching quality through policies such as performance assessments for teachers, the elimination of “back door” or emergency credentials, mentoring and induction programs for beginning teachers and “widespread” professional development.
“It’s the same recipe,” she said, “whether you do it in the United States or you do it in other countries.”