International

Teachers Seen as Making Difference in World’s Top Schools

By Bess Keller — November 01, 2007 | Corrected: February 22, 2019 3 min read

Corrected: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the sponsor of the report examining the practices of the 10 top performers on the 2003 administration of the Program for International Student Assessment.

The world’s top-performing school systems and those coming up fast have a lesson to teach the others: Put high-quality teaching for every child at the heart of school improvement.

That’s the conclusion drawn by a report that examines the practices of the 10 top performers and another seven rapidly improving systems on the 2003 administration of the international tests known as PISA, or Program for International Student Assessment. PISA is sponsored by the 30-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

School system success, the report contends, hinges on getting the right people to become teachers, helping them learn to teach, and crafting a system that ensures every child will get access to the teaching he needs.

Neither resources nor ambitious reforms have been the answer to the need for school improvement, say the authors, Sir Michael Barber and Mona Mourshed of McKinsey & Co., the London-based consulting firm responsible for the report. They point to “massive” increases in spending and popular reforms—prominently, class-size reduction and decentralization of decisionmaking—that have failed, they say, to much budge the needle of student achievement many places.

In contrast, high-performing school systems—such as those in Alberta, Canada; Finland; Japan; New Zealand; and Singapore—“maintained a strong focus on improving instruction because of its direct impact upon student achievement,” according to the report. The same emphasis is part of reforms in seven “rapidly improving” systems, including the American cities of Boston, Chicago, and New York, as well as in England.

The study picks apart the practices that the authors say result in widespread high-quality teaching.

Top-performing systems, for instance, are typically both restrictive and selective about who is able to train as a teacher, recruiting their teachers from the top third of each group leaving secondary school. Teachers are offered good starting compensation, usually on a par with other college graduates, but the status of the profession is at least equally important in maintaining quality, the authors say. Status, they contend, can be boosted by marketing and recruitment techniques.

Once the right people are secured, the top-performing systems help them become first-class teachers by enabling them to learn from each other, widespread coaching of their practice in the classroom, and developing strong school leaders skilled in instruction. Some high-performing systems, the report notes, focus greatly expanded resources on teachers’ first year.

Contrasting Reviews

Finally, Sir Michael and Ms. Mourshed maintain, teaching expertise must be deployed to serve all children in the system according to their needs. Successful school systems set high learning standards for their schools and move in when they are not met, the report says. Monitoring of school performance, according to the study, can be accomplished with both test results and school reviews. Similarly, the authors continue, the best systems are ready and able to identify children who are falling behind, and they provide those students with the teaching that will help them catch up.

High-performing systems “ensure that resources and funding are targeted at those students who need them most,” the authors write. They cite Finland, where each school employs a number of special education teachers, who may help close to a third of all pupils—including those learning the fastest—during the school year.

The report drew almost diametrically opposed reviews from international education experts.

David P. Baker, who has extensively studied the results from international math and science tests, praised the study for clear conclusions that hold the possibility of pushing policymakers in valid directions. He said his own research showed that countries that reduced the spread in teacher quality tended to have higher test scores.

At the same time, the Pennsylvania State University professor said the report might have taken better account of the effects of social disadvantage, which has a profound influence on school performance.

Tom Loveless, a senior fellow in education at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, said the report “needed to define the variables [that affect school performance] and measure them carefully” across systems hitting the full range of performance. Identifying the practices of the better-performing school systems does not mean much if less successful systems do the same things, he said.

A version of this article appeared in the November 07, 2007 edition of Education Week as Teachers Seen as Making Difference in World’s Top Schools

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS
School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Strategies & Tips for Complex Decision-Making
Schools are working through the most disruptive period in the history of modern education, facing a pandemic, economic problems, social justice issues, and rapid technological change all at once. But even after the pandemic ends,

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

International Opinion Why Other Countries Keep Outperforming Us in Education (and How to Catch Up)
Money from the American Rescue Plan could be our last chance to build the school system we need, writes Marc Tucker.
Marc Tucker
5 min read
A student climbs stacks of books to reach the top
Tatyana Pivovarova/iStock/Getty Images Plus
International Global Test Finds Digital Divide Reflected in Math, Science Scores
New data from the 2019 Trends in International Math and Science Study show teachers and students lack digital access and support.
3 min read
Image of data.
iStock/Getty
International Pre-COVID Learning Inequities Were Already Large Around the World
A new international benchmarking highlights gaps in training for digital learning and other supports that could deepen the challenge for low-income schools during the pandemic.
4 min read
International Part of Global Trend, 1 in 3 U.S. High Schoolers Felt Disconnected From School Before Pandemic
UNESCO's annual report on global education progress finds countries need to make more effort to include marginalized students, particularly in the United States.
4 min read