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Countries With High-Performing Students Have Strong Teacher Professional Learning

Two new studies commissioned by the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) credit the collaborative professional learning of teachers in British Columbia, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Singapore with their students’ strong performance on international assessments. NCEE’s Center on International Education Benchmarking organized a half-day forum last month featuring panel discussions of these countries’ policies that support such systems—and what lessons the United States should draw from them.

Rather than treating professional development as an add-on program such as monthly workshops, the studies say, successful education systems embed it broadly. Teacher-led collaborative learning is deliberately planned into structures such as well-defined career ladders, mentorship programs, and schools’ daily schedules. Although some of these features can be found in U.S. districts, none is widely used or as robust as described in the reports, and panelists advocated for a stronger systems approach.

Beyond PD: Teacher Professional Learning in High-Performing Systems is an overview report from Australian researcher Ben Jensen comparing the common approaches to teacher development across the four diverse systems.

Developing Shanghai’s Teachers offers an insider’s perspective—from former Shanghai Normal University President and Shanghai Education Commission Deputy Director Minxuan Zhang—on that city’s highly organized system for teacher learning and advancement.

Even for international-comparison skeptics, the studies offer compelling insights into what strong professional communities can do. “These reports provide clear and concrete illustrations of the power of teacher knowledge to produce the learning outcomes most desired by the community,” said AACTE President/CEO Sharon P. Robinson. “Students achieve when teachers are developed and supported to implement practice that addresses learners’ needs rather than policy dictates. The culture of teaching and learning described in these NCEE reports resonates with educators who aspire to serve students as their first priority.”

Recordings of last month’s forum are available for viewing online. Separate videos are available of the authors presenting their studies and of three panels discussing the studies’ global context, lessons for the United States, and implications for school organization and policy. Enjoy hearing insights from these speakers:


  • Marc Tucker, NCEE

Study Authors

  • Ben Jensen, Learning First (Australia)
  • Minxuan Zhang, Shanghai Education Commission

Panel I – Teacher Professional Learning in a Global Context

  • Linda Darling-Hammond, Learning Policy Institute
  • Sing Kong Lee, Nanyang Technological University
  • Report authors Jensen and Zhang

Panel II – Lessons for the United States

  • Lily Eskelsen Garcia, National Education Association
  • Joshua Starr, PDK International
  • Paul Leather, New Hampshire Department of Education

Panel III – Implications for School Organization and Management

  • David Driscoll, former education commissioner in Massachusetts and chair of the National Assessment Governing Board
  • Tom Shelton, Kentucky Association of School Superintendents
  • Charles Pearson,Normandy Schools Collaborative (MO)
  • Anthony Mackay, Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership

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