Monday, June 6, 2011


In teachers we trust?
By Alexandra Nikolchev
June 3, 2011

A classroom in Shanghai.

Ezra Klein’s Washington Post blog recently featured a guest post by Columbia University journalism student Dana Goldstein entitled “Is the U.S. doing teacher reform all wrong?” Goldstein focuses on the findings of a recent National Center on Education and the Economy’s study, which compares education policies in five top performing countries — Finland, China, Japan, Singapore and Canada — with the United States. One of the main conclusions is that, basically, the way the U.S. recruits, prepares and evaluates teachers is completely out of step with this group of high-achieving countries.

Public schools in the United States have emulated the Teach for America model: Young, enthusiastic people are thrown into classrooms, often without any experience and little to no required formal coursework. There is no U.S. policy system that pairs new teachers with experienced mentors. Teachers are granted little autonomy in their classrooms and their performance evaluations are largely based on student test scores.

In contrast, teachers in top performing countries must commit to teaching as a serious profession before they enter their classrooms. Each candidate must first go through a system that requires high levels of training and education. As a result, teacher autonomy in the classroom is prioritized and there is less emphasis on student test scores.

The report concludes “that the strategies driving the best performing systems are rarely found in the United States, and conversely, that the education strategies now most popular in the United States are conspicuous by their absence in the countries with the most successful education systems.”

As the report suggests, understanding what systems are being implemented for teachers in academically high-achieving countries should factor into our own policy reform efforts here in the U.S.

To hear more on what might make a positive difference for U.S.teachers and education, watch our “Fixing Education” series of interviews. Need to Know sat down with educators and policymakers from around the world at the “Celebration of Teaching and Learning” organized by WNET in New York City. We wanted to get a global perspective on successful strategies for education reform. A number of those interviewed, including Finland’s Minister of Education and Science and Hong Kong’s Under Secretary for Education, echoed the sentiment that education is more effective when the teachers are well-trained and respected as professionals.

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