Teaching Profession Opinion

South Korea Takes Dramatic Action with 1,056 “Unsatisfactory” Teachers

By Justin Baeder — December 27, 2010 1 min read
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This brief story on how South Korea responds to unsatisfactory teachers caught my eye last week:

The education ministry said today that more than 900 of them are required to take a 60-hour session aimed at improving their teaching skills while the rest will have to participate in a six-month training program. The ministry said should those in long-term programs be evaluated poorly again the following year they will be assembled to take part in specialized training programs while not being able to teach during the programs. This year's evaluation consisted of peer assessment and students' as well as parents' satisfaction index.

This story is short, but full of astounding details. First, the South Korean government has a way to assess which teachers are effective and which are not. We aren’t given any details on how this determination was made, other than that the measures included peer, student, and parent input.

Second, a 60-hour professional development program was already in the works, and is now mandatory for these 1,056 teachers. Amazing—I’ve never heard of any remedial professional development of this type in the US, even in large districts. I don’t know how well such a program might work, but at least there’s a backup plan if teachers continue to receive low ratings.

Third, the fact that there is a backup PD requirement for non-improvers, and that teachers are relieved of their duties during this training, speaks to the immense seriousness with which South Korea treats teacher quality.

Fourth, notice that the article does not actually mention that teachers will be fired if they fail to improve after the second PD program. I don’t know if this would actually be necessary, or if Korean teachers would quit upon reaching this point, but clearly the system does not assume that teachers will all improve after the first training.

What if we had such a system in the US? Of course, we have no national definition of effective teaching (despite the efforts of bodies such as NBPTS and studies such as the Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching Project), and no agency with the direct authority to implement a mandatory training program for subpar teachers.

But what if districts took on such a challenge for themselves, and set a bar for how many teachers would participate each year? In a district with 1,000 teachers, would it be unreasonable to think that 50 (a mere 5%) are in need of significant improvement each year?

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