Webinar Explores Effective Global Practices in Teacher Recruitment, Preparation

Last week, I was honored to participate in a webinar discussing Empowered Educators, an international comparative study of teacher and teaching quality in the world’s top-performing education systems. Hosted by the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE), whose Center on International Education Benchmarking sponsored the study, this event featured members of the research team discussing specific lessons for the recruitment and preparation of profession-ready teachers.

Lead researcher Linda Darling-Hammond (of the Learning Policy Institute and Stanford University) was joined by NCEE President and CEO Marc Tucker for an introduction of the study. Other researchers on this webinar were Finnish researcher Pasi Sahlberg, who helped lead the Empowered Educators case study on Finland, and A. Lin Goodwin of Teachers College, Columbia University (NY), who worked on the Singapore branch of the study. I served as a discussant, as did Mary Sandy, executive director of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

Darling-Hammond provided an overview of the systems studied in Finland and Singapore and the environment of public respect that dominates the education profession there. In Singapore, for example, “teachers are considered nation builders,” she said. “There’s a real discourse and sensibility about the value of teachers as the profession on which other professions depend.”

Sahlberg highlighted key points that set the Finnish teacher pipeline apart from that in many other countries. First, the nation has required all teachers to go through rigorous academic preparation since the late 1970s, which means that most current teachers have gone through this system. Quality control is exercised primarily before entry into preparation programs rather than at the point of exit or in service. The research-university-based preparation differs considerably by level, with primary teachers taking a thorough 5-year program in education with minors in subject areas. For secondary teachers, preparation is a joint responsibility of the education faculty and subject area faculty. Clinical preparation occurs in site-based lab schools and requires candidates to demonstrate proficiency before exit. It’s a myth, though, that only the “best and the brightest” go into teaching. The nation’s selectivity is based more on an ethos around education, where internal passion and other dispositions are more important than academic performance.

Goodwin noted that Singapore not only pays for teachers’ preservice preparation but also pays them a salary during their training. Many more people want to go into teaching than are accepted, because the profession has high status, good pay, and a promising career trajectory; about 1 in 8 candidates is accepted. There are no alternate routes; everyone is prepared through the university. Teachers are also expected to go on to earn master’s degrees and, like any professional, continue learning throughout their career. “Learning to be a teacher is seen as a continuum, and so the expectation is never that a brand-new graduate is going to be able to step into a classroom and assume all the responsibilities and behave the same way that a 10-year veteran does,” Goodwin said. “So new teachers are automatically provided with mentoring; they are part of an induction program; they are given a reduced teaching load. The assumption is that even though they had great preparation, they are still going to need more.”

Asked to reflect on these examples, Sandy noted many similarities with California in terms of recruitment and teacher quality, but differences in handling key areas such as staffing shortages, when policy priorities are unable to align. “The tension that lives here in our policy community between setting very high standards for the preparation of the workforce and setting those standards aside when we must staff a classroom is an interesting tension.”

I said what resonated most about the examples from Finland and Singapore was their reflection of the former accomplishments and future aspirations of the U.S. system that seem to have been lost, or at least overshadowed, in our current system. Things like the ethos of teaching and the focus on clinical practice, which AACTE’s Clinical Practice Commission is working to elevate and more broadly operationalize, are the most important areas for our attention.

The full insights from the study are available in a book released in April from Jossey-Bass. You can also download (for free!) topical policy briefs and country-specific case studies on Australia, Canada, Finland, Shanghai, and Singapore from this page, and you can view recordings such as these:

Additional in-depth webinars are planned for this fall on the following topics:

  • September: Professional Learning
  • October: Appraisal and Evaluation
  • November: Career Ladders

Learn more about the study at http://ncee.org/empowered-educators/.

Tags: ,

Rodrick Lucero

Vice President for Member Engagement and Support