Professional Development

What Other Countries Can Teach the U.S. About Teacher Professional Development

By Sarah Schwartz — June 11, 2018 4 min read
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U.S. teachers have many possible routes into teaching, from traditional schools of education to alternative-certification programs. A new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development suggests that specific types of preservice training and professional development may be less related to student achievement than the content and priorities of these programs.


  • Australia
  • Beijing-Shanghai-JiangsuGuangdong (China)
  • Canada
  • England (United Kingdom)
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • Flemish Community of Belgium
  • Germany
  • Hong Kong (China)
  • Japan
  • Korea
  • Macao (China)
  • the Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Singapore
  • Slovenia
  • Switzerland
  • Chinese Taipei

The report analyzes teacher preparation and professional-development practices in relation to student acheivement results from the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment, which is administered every few years in more than 30 industrialized nations.

Information on countries’ teacher policies—how they attract people to the profession, train them, help them improve, and assign them to schools—was aggregated from “Education at a Glance,” the OECD’s annual compendium of educational indicators across 50 industrialized countries. The analysis also used answers from principal questionaires in the 2015 PISA that asked about schools’ level of responsibility for selecting and training teachers.

The 19 highest-performing countries and economies vary widely on most teacher policies: Among requirements for entry to the profession, teacher evaluations, career-progression trajectories, and salaries, “the most common finding is that there are no common traits,” the report’s authors write.

But there are three professional-development strategies that most of the highest performing areas had in common:

1) A required, extended period of “clinical practice” during the preservice period or at the beginning of the teacher’s career: The 19 top-scoring countries and economies varied in their entry requirements to the teaching profession: Some asked teacher candidates to sit for a competitive exam and attend multi-year preservice education programs, while others didn’t require any specialized credentials. However, in most of the countries, teachers went through an initial period of on-the-job training during which they received feedback and support from mentors in a formalized program. These programs help educators “bridge the gap between theory and practice,” the report’s authors write.

2) A variety of opportunities for professional development tailored to the individual teacher: In most schools in these 19 regions, teachers had access to in-house professional development. “The advantage of school-based workshops, compared to attending a lecture by an external specialist, might come from the peer-learning opportunities they provide, and the fact that feedback and ideas from other experienced teachers in the same school are more directly related to concrete and common challenges in the classroom,” the report reads.

3) Teacher-evaluation practices that prioritize continuous improvement: How often teachers are evaluated varies widely among countries. For example, teachers in the Netherlands undergo a mandatory evaluation every three years, while in six other high-performing countries, teachers are evaluated every year. A common feature of these appraisals, though, is that they offer feedback for teachers’ future development and practice.

Additionally, teachers in these high-performing countries feel valued for their professional skills. Thirteen of the 19 regions also participated in the 2013-2014 OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey, in which teachers in all but one reported above-average agreement with the statement, “I think the teaching profession is valued in society.”

See also: Here’s What the US Can Learn About Teaching Quality From Top Countries

Teacher Selection and Student Achievement

The report also looked at how certain teacher characteristics and policies are related to students’ academic performance.

Having a highly qualified and experienced teacher was a strong predictor of student success. School performance and student behavior were both positively related to teachers’ years of experience.

Countries in which schools gained more autonomy and control over the teacher-selection process between the 2006 PISA and the 2015 PISA saw improvements in student achievement in science, reading, and math during that time period. This relationship was stronger in countries where school achievement data was used for accountability purposes.

Countries in which schools had more responsibility in the selection process were also more likely to have highly qualified teachers distributed equitably across schools, rather than concentrated in the most advantaged areas.

“Opponents to school autonomy often voice concerns that greater independence of schools might lead to greater disparities in student performance and, perhaps more worryingly, to an education system that exacerbates existing economic and social inequities,” the report’s authors write. “However, the data suggest that this is not the most common result of greater school autonomy.”

Image: Getty

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.