Lessons the U.S. Needs to Learn about the Teaching Profession

Last week I was privileged to attend the International Summit on the Teaching Profession in New York City, co-sponsored by (among others) the Asia Society, WNET New York and USDOE. The Summit, which immediately preceded WNET’s wonderful annual Celebration of Teaching & Learning, gathered education ministers, national union leaders and accomplished teachers from the United States and from nations with high performing and rapidly improving educational systems.

Last week I was privileged to attend the International Summit on the Teaching Profession in New York City, co-sponsored by (among others) the Asia Society, WNET New York and USDOE. The Summit, which immediately preceded WNET’s wonderful annual Celebration of Teaching & Learning, gathered education ministers, national union leaders and accomplished teachers from the United States and from nations with high performing and rapidly improving educational systems.

The International Summit is described here by guest blogger Liana Heitin at Education Week’s Teacher Beat blog. Heitin does a nice job in laying out the basic facts of who was there and for what purpose — but bypasses some of the most important messages about why U.S. teaching policy is way off the mark in comparison to other (top-ranked) nations represented at the Summit. As Heitin notes, in high performing nations, unions and government work together. But there is a lot more to be learned. Here are the key lessons:

  1. High performing nations have not changed their teachers. They have changed their teaching development systems.
  2. Ministers of Education in top-ranked nations have no problem talking about the importance of teacher working conditions — most notably time for them to learn from each other.
  3. Other nations recruit top talent to teaching but recognize that high flying academics are not always the best teachers.
  4. 4. In Shanghai high performing schools have time and resources to help low performing schools. There is no competition between “traditional” schools and “charters.”
  5. 5. Top-performing nations pay for rigorous, formal, and extensive pre-service preparation of all new recruits to teaching. There is no need for a Teach for Finland or Teach for Singapore.

For insight take a good look at the OECD report presented at the conference — Lessons from PISA: What the U.S. Can Learn from the World’s Most Successful Reform Efforts — and ask questions about why U.S. policymakers can’t get it right.

[Here’s another blog commentary — by Maureen Downey at the Atlanta Journal Constitution — that includes more highlights from the OECD report. And you can watch a webcast of the Summit’s closing session here.]