The connection between teacher quality and top-performing school systems in the world

Why aren’t our teachers the best and the brightest? Oct 10, 2010 Washington Post

By Paul Kihin and Matt Miller

“Why don’t more of our smartest, most accomplished college graduates want to become teachers?

People trying to improve education in this country have been talking a lot lately about boosting “teacher effectiveness.” But nearly all such efforts focus on the teachers who are already in the classroom, instead of seeking to change the caliber of the people who enter teaching in the first place.

Three of the top-performing school systems in the world — those in Finland, Singapore and South Korea — take a different approach, recruiting 100 percent of their teachers from the top third of their high school and college students. Simply put, they don’t take middling students and make them teachers. They tap their best people for the job.
Of course, academic achievement isn’t the whole story in these countries. They screen would-be teachers for other important qualities, and they invest heavily in training teachers and in retaining them for their entire careers. But scholastic prowess comes first: You don’t get through the classroom door in Finland, Singapore or South Korea without having distinguished yourself academically. In the United States, by contrast, only 23 percent of new teachers scored among the top third of SAT and ACT test-takers back in high school. In high-poverty schools, that figure is just 14 percent.
… it’s not just pay that’s a problem. A teaching career does not offer our nation’s top college graduates a compelling peer group, opportunities for continued learning or the prestige of other professions. Moreover, our most needy schools mostly fail to offer the working conditions or the leadership needed to retain top talent once it has been recruited.
Our approach to teacher recruitment and development doesn’t hold a candle to the methods used in Singapore, Finland and South Korea, where attracting high-quality people to the profession is considered a national priority. The good news, based on research that we and our colleagues at McKinsey & Company recently completed, is that the United States could dramatically increase the number of top students who choose teaching by adopting some of these countries’ practices.
How do they do it? For starters, these countries make teacher training programs highly selective, accepting no more than one out of every seven or eight applicants. Their governments also limit the number of training positions to match the expected demand for educators, so that those admitted are assured jobs. American teachers, by contrast, mostly enter the profession through programs that are not selective at all. As a result, more than half of newly certified teachers in the United States — about 100,000 each year — do not take jobs in the classroom.

Next, Singapore and Finland fully fund teacher education and pay students salaries or stipends. In the United States, meanwhile, students must often go into debt to attend education schools. In addition, the quality of teacher training in top-performing nations is first-rate. Companies such as Nokia, for example, covet teachers who leave the classroom in Finland, because graduates of teacher training there are known to be exceptional talents.
These countries also foster a professional working environment….
Crucially, these other countries provide competitive compensation. Of the three, South Korea puts the greatest emphasis on salary, with starting pay equivalent to about $55,000 and top salaries reaching $155,000. According to Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University, these earnings place South Korea’s teachers somewhere between its engineers and its doctors. Singapore, in addition to competitive pay, offers retention bonuses of $10,000 to $36,000 every three to five years.
To top it all off, these nations accord enormous cultural respect to teaching and teachers. Leaders in the United States routinely offer rhetorical tributes to teaching, but the profession here enjoys nothing like the exalted status it holds in these three countries”– End of excerpt read more here.

1 thought on “The connection between teacher quality and top-performing school systems in the world”

  1. I think this is valid simply because I know of many students (back when I was in school) who lost respect for their teachers (in elementary, secondary and high school) because they were smarter than the teacher. They would learn the material and then get stuck behind all the slowpokes and chafe. The teacher would be unable to keep them challenged because the teacher couldn’t or wouldn’t offer two programs simultaneously in her/his classroom, or at least offer the smarter kid tutoring work with the other kids. The smarter kid was expected to sit quietly and stare at the ceiling or something. That was really hard, on the boys especially. Too much energy and nothing to focus it on was a bad combination.

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