Raising the Status of Teachers

Excerpts from Sam Dillon’s March 16, NYT article, “US is Urged to Raise Teachers’ Status”.

To improve its public schools, the United States should raise the status of the teaching profession by recruiting more qualified candidates, training them better, and paying them more, according to a new report on comparative educational systems.

• Top-scoring countries like Korea, Singapore and Finland recruit only high-performing college graduates for teaching positions, support them with mentoring and other help in the classroom, and take steps to raise respect for the profession.

• Teaching in the U.S. is unfortunately no longer a high-status occupation. . . . Despite the characterization of some that teaching is an easy job, with short hours and summers off, the fact is that successful, dedicated teachers in the U.S. work long hours for little pay and, in many cases, insufficient support from their leadership.

• On the most recent international tests (Pisa), the top-scoring countries were Finland and Singapore in science, Korea and Finland in reading and Singapore and Korea in math. On average, American teenagers came in 15th in reading and 19th in science. American students placed 27th in math. Only 2 percent of American students scored at the highest proficiency level, compared with 8 percent in Korea and 5 percent in Finland.

• U.S. education reformers need to adopt common academic standards, develop better tests for use by teachers in diagnosing students’ day-to-day learning needs, and train more effective school leaders.

• The top recommendation from the report—make a concerted effort to raise the status of the teaching profession.

• Teaching education programs in the U.S. must become more selective and more rigorous.

• Raising teachers’ status is not mainly about raising salaries, the report says, but pay is a factor. According to O.E.C.D. data, the average salary of a veteran elementary teacher here was $44,172 in 2008, higher than the average of $39,426 across all O.E.C.D countries (the figures were converted to compare the purchasing power of each currency). But that salary level was 40 percent below the average salary of other American college graduates. In Finland, by comparison, the veteran teacher’s salary was 13 percent less than that of the average college graduate’s.

• Only Luxembourg among the O.E.C.D. countries spends more per elementary student — but American schools spend disproportionately on other areas, like bus transportation and sports facilities.

So maybe we do have the best school system in the world if, like Fifteen a couple of weeks ago, you want to skip a day of classes, and take a school provided bus to the state basketball tournament.