Teacher-Pay Alternatives May Be Found in Other Nations

By Linda Jacobson — October 24, 2006 3 min read
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The United States isn’t the only country struggling to attract and keep well-qualified teachers.

But compensation strategies being tried in other industrialized nations could give U.S. policymakers some new ways to address the issue, says a report out last week from the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank.

“Shortages of qualified teachers are pervasive in all advanced industrial countries today,” write the authors, Susan K. Sclafani, a former assistant U.S. secretary of education for vocational and adult education, and Marc S. Tucker, the president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, a Washington-based research and advocacy group. “Like us, these countries are finding it especially difficult to recruit teachers in mathematics, sciences, technology and computer science, and foreign languages.”

The report, “Teacher and Principal Compensation: An International Review,” is posted by the Center for American Progress.

The study gives a variety of examples of policies used abroad.

For example, in the United Kingdom, teachers who agree to work in certain shortage areas have their entire college-tuition costs forgiven if they stay on the job for at least 10 years.

Countries such as Austria, Denmark, Finland, and Scotland are offering fewer benefits but higher pay for teachers—more comparable with salaries in other professions—in the early years of their careers, at a time when they are less concerned about what benefits they’ll receive when they get older.

And in Singapore, teachers receive salary supplements if they agree to teach in shortage subject areas, and even higher ones if they teach deaf students or those with mental disabilities.

‘The Global Economy’

The authors attribute the worldwide problem of finding an adequate supply of teachers to the “fundamental changes taking place in the global economy.”

For the most part, public education systems in the industrialized countries developed before 1925.

Ben Schaefer, a program manager at the Washington-based National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, said the report is useful—not only because it highlights innovative policies, but also because it focuses on the countries the United States is competing against.

“The report illustrates the complexities of attracting and retaining quality teachers, which takes more than just a bump in salary or a signing bonus,” he said. But policymakers need to think beyond just filling shortages, he added.

“With this approach, one is continually trying to fill a leaky bucket as teachers leave the profession. By implementing policies designed to retain teachers,” Mr. Schaefer continued, “policymakers can reduce shortages and enable teachers to develop into highly effective educators.”

Patterns Emerging

Ms. Sclafani and Mr. Tucker stress that just because something is working to improve the teaching workforce in another country doesn’t mean it will be successful here. Still, they urge readers to “be receptive to those solutions that appear to work across national boundaries or have a strong potential for doing so.”

And they highlight a few patterns that are emerging internationally. Young people entering the teaching profession, for instance, are showing a preference for a salary system that is based on the quality of their work, the authors say, instead of a conventional approach that “compensates everyone without respect to the quality of their teaching.”

They also suggest that, given the opportunity, teachers would like to negotiate their salaries with their principals individually—a practice used in Sweden—instead of having their union do it for them.

Howard Nelson, a senior researcher in the office of the president at the American Federation of Teachers, said there’s an element within Denver’s performance-pay program that allows teachers to negotiate individual classroom goals that could bring them bonuses. But he said he didn’t expect entire teacher contracts to be negotiated individually in the near future in this country.

“Teachers need a solid, competitive, adequate base salary,” said Mr. Nelson.

Many countries are also calling for more training for principals and contracts based on performance. “Their compensation is sometimes declining relative to classroom teachers, while at the same time, they are being held increasingly accountable for improving student outcomes and school performance,” the report says.

A version of this article appeared in the October 25, 2006 edition of Education Week as Teacher-Pay Alternatives May Be Found in Other Nations


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