Teacher-Pay Approaches From Other Countries Outlined

By Linda Jacobson — October 18, 2006 3 min read
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The United States isn’t the only country struggling to attract and retain well-qualified teachers.

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

“Shortages of qualified teachers are pervasive in all advanced industrial countries today,” write the authors, Susan K. Sclafani, a former U.S. assistant secretary of education for vocational and adult education, and Marc S. Tucker, the president of the National Center on Education and the Economy in Washington. “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 higher pay—more comparable with salaries in other professions—in the early years of their career, 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 this 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 these countries developed before 1925.

“Four-year college graduates were rare in those days, and those that were available were needed for the high priority technical and professional jobs available then,” the report says.

Having teachers who are only expected to provide an 8th grade level of literacy to the vast majority of secondary school graduates is no longer enough to meet the demand for preparing today’s students for college or careers, the authors suggest.

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 in the “global marketplace.”

“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 added that policymakers need to think beyond just filling shortages. “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 stressed in the report that just because something is working to improve the teaching workforce in another country doesn’t mean it will be successful here. Still, they urged readers to “be receptive to those solutions that appear to work across national boundaries or have a strong potential for doing so.”

And they highlighted 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 instead of a conventional approach that “compensates everyone without respect to the quality of their teaching.”

The authors also suggested that given the opportunity teachers would like to negotiate their salary with their principal individually, instead of having their union do it for them—a practice used in Sweden.

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 “ProComp” pay-for-performance program that allows teachers to negotiate individual classroom goals that could bring them bonuses on top of their salaries. 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, noting that both the AFT and the National Education Association have been supportive of programs that provide “extra pay for extra duties.”

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