Preparing teachers, Singapore-style

As America focuses on recruiting teachers with content knowledge with little pedagogical preparation, other countries like Singapore are being successful using a different strategy. Join one education expert as he explores what must be done to emulate Sinapore’s educational successes in teacher preparation.

Ok, so you want to make math as “easy as 1, 2, 3” for students and have them learn at the high levels of international performance. What do you do? Do you recruit teachers who have math degrees (but little or no pedagogical training) and then expect those teachers to teach for only a few years? Do you focus on creating charter schools or revoking teacher tenure laws? Do you call on a Caped Crusader to swoop in and get rid of so-called incompetent teachers to close the achievement gap?

Nope. Not if your kid goes to school in Singapore (or a few well-heeled school districts in America).

Winnie Hu’s informative piece in the New York Times (9/30/10) tells the story of the investments some American school districts are making in SingaporeMath — a program where teachers are well-prepared in specific math pedagogy and are expected to teach a few concepts deeply. These investments to increase teacher know-how appear to be paying off in better student performance.

My recent post on the latest McKinsey & Associates teaching quality research highlights Singapore not just because it recruits top talent to teaching, but because the southeast Asian nation takes teacher education seriously by paying for in-depth pedagogical preparation — and then gives teachers 10-20 hours each week to refine their lessons. They pay teachers well, but they do not reward them just for raising test scores. They draw on comprehensive evaluation systems that focus on teachers spreading their expertise to others.

As Ms. Hu notes, “school officials caution that SingaporeMath is not easy or cheap to successfully adopt.” It requires substantive investments in helping teachers gain the new skills and knowledge associated with teaching math concepts at a deep level. But is it not time to invest more in developing the profession that makes all others possible?