Washington, DC – Education policy in America is one of the hottest topics in communities across the country. The United States, however, is hardly alone in its increasing concern about getting and keeping the quality teachers it needs to remain economically competitive in the 21st century. Shortages of qualified teachers are pervasive in all advanced industrial countries today. Like us, these countries are finding it especially difficult to recruit teachers in mathematics, sciences, technology and computer science, and foreign languages.
A new report (PDF) from the Center for American Progress, “Teacher and Principal Compensation: An International Review,” presents a comprehensive review of education reforms in developed countries around the globe. The purpose: to find those reforms that work and those which might be applicable to the American public educational system.
“We undertook this study because of our deep concern about finding strategies that improve teacher quality and our hope that some other industrialized countries had initiated effective ones,” said Cindy Brown, Director of Education Policy for the Center for American Progress. “The results of our investigation are sobering and demonstrate that increasing the number of effective teachers is an international challenge.”
The authors, Susan Sclafani of the Chartwell Education Group and Marc Tucker of the National Center on Education and the Economy, note the fact that most of the advanced industrial countries are encountering many of the same problems, such as recruiting and keeping well qualified teachers in public school classrooms, is directly attributable to the fundamental changes taking place in the global economy. Most workers in advanced industrial societies need a far higher level of education—the kind needed to do what Peter Drucker dubbed “knowledge work” some years ago—to be able to cope with ideas in ways that was certainly not needed even recently by most workers.
To address these challenges, advanced industrial countries in Europe and elsewhere are trying many of the same remedies with which the U.S. is experimenting, such as across-the-board salary adjustments for teachers, and incentives targeted at attracting individuals to particular shortage areas. Though many of these actions roughly parallel developments in the United States, there are interesting and important variations on these themes that some countries have tried that could potentially be very interesting to American policymakers. And there are some points of substantial difference.
We should not be surprised that relatively modest financial incentives are not working very well in this country or in any other. Researchers speculate that the effects will not be larger unless the incentives approach those of comparable private sector professions as a proportion of base pay. Moreover, highly qualified young people today are less interested in a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work than they are in an outstanding day’s pay for an outstanding day’s work. And they are much less interested in a career than they are in doing something next that is interesting and personally rewarding.
The paper takes a key feature of teaching policy—teachers’ compensation—and examines it from the perspective of the way policies on that topic are evolving in a variety of countries. In addition, it examines what researchers are reporting about: both the problems and the effects of the policy approaches that other nations have been trying.