Center for American Progress

Finding Quality Teachers for Public Schools: The International Challenge

Finding Quality Teachers for Public Schools: The International Challenge

Panelists at CAP event discuss international solutions to help teacher shortages at home and abroad.

Changes in the global economic system are causing shifts in global education systems, and as a result, there is an increasing shortage of qualified teachers.

The Center for American Progress brought together four distinguished panelists on Monday to discuss this issue as addressed in the new report Teacher and Principal Compensation. Report authors Susan Sclafani, Managing Director of the Chartwell Education Group, and Marc S. Tucker, President of the National Center on Education and the Economy, were joined on the event panel by Frederick M. Hess, Director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, and F. Howard Nelson, Senior Associate Director in the Office of the President at the American Federation of Teachers. Cynthia Brown, Director of Education Policy at the Center for American Progress, moderated the discussion.

Teacher and Principal Compensation details problems that American public schools confront when trying to recruit teachers. It uses these issues as points of departure for an examination of the similar problems in other industrialized countries. “When we started down this road,” Brown explained, “we expected to find an industrialized country that was doing something amazing that we just missed.” Unfortunately, this was not the case. The hiring and compensation systems in place in European countries and other advanced nations are all in various stages of experimentation. No country has the perfect solution for hiring and retaining enough high-quality teachers for their increasingly complex education systems.

Teacher compensation in the U.S. is actually higher in terms of Purchasing Power Party—the amount that a teacher can buy with his or her income. But compared to Gross Domestic Product per capita, a better measure, American teachers’ salaries are lower than in any of the other G-8 nations.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, teachers are interested in compensation systems that reward them for the quality of their work. Most compensation systems for teachers in the U.S. reward teachers without respect to their effectiveness in the classroom. “There ought to be a greater connection between contribution and compensation,” Sclafani said. Financial incentives based on performance, which are standard in the private sector, may be the best way to recruit and retain quality teachers. This “merit based” compensation stands in stark contrast to traditional methods of determining teacher pay scales, where years of service and advanced education credentials are the key factors.

Many European countries are also brainstorming non-traditional methods for recruiting and retaining quality teachers. The United Kingdom recruits young teachers by erasing their debts after ten years of classroom instruction. Australia, Denmark, England, Finland, Norway, and Sweden offer higher initial compensation to young, new teachers. And Chile gives bonuses to teachers that teach in the top twenty five percent of schools in each socio-economic band.

Tucker said that the education system needs to undergo “more than modest adjustments,” because it is based on an outdated “industrial context” aimed at creating only a moderately literate populace. New realities require students to leave secondary school prepared for the rigors of college and “knowledge work” in the information economy. America therefore must recruit the best teachers possible by offering “performance oriented compensation” in which pay is flexible and dependent on student success.

Sclafani agreed that performance-based compensation may be necessary to improve the public education system. She pointed to analyses showing that young people overwhelmingly favor pay by results rather than by experience, and said that many young people today would rather teach short-term than have a long, steady career in education.

Nelson disagreed with some of the reports conclusions. He believes that “teachers are going to be teachers no matter what you pay,” and pointed to his own data showing that the world’s best education systems have “strong unions” and “a coherent common curriculum,” rather than higher teacher salaries. He therefore urged education reforms that improve working conditions and learning standards and that provide financial incentives for teachers to work in rural and urban areas.

Hess was critical of using the statistical data in education policy reports simply to assess the effectiveness of new compensation structures on student performance. These questions, he said, are narrowly focused on the short-term. He suggested instead that school systems tailor their compensation to attract the kind teachers that they need—a practice common in the private sector.

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· Finding Quality Teachers for Public Schools

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