Summer blockbusters: Big Studies from OECD and AERA

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Two blockbuster studies on the teaching profession have been released since our last issue: first, a study from a panel of scholars assembled by the AERA to examine all of the research on the effectiveness of teacher education; and second, the largest-ever international study on teacher policy.

The AERA overview looks at common practices in teacher education to see what their impact is on teacher effectiveness. For example, the group found that there's been little study of the impact of state licensing tests--and, we might add, there won't be, at least until more reasonable policies are set across states for passing these tests, and testing companies stop shielding them from scholarly scrutiny. A proper review of this massive 700-plus-page study wasn't possible in time for this issue, but we'll have a close look at it in the next issue of TQB.

On the international front, the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is out with a comprehensive examination of the teacher policies of 25 nations. Entitled Teachers Matter: Attracting, Developing and Retaining Effective Teachers, this dense report starts off with a bit of a fizzle due to the inimitable "OECDese" that makes it sound as if all 25 nations are equal victims of the same flawed teacher policies, that the whole world is in search of math and science teachers, and that induction practices stink no matter what part of the globe you're on. Moving past the nervous egalitarian stroking, there's lots to fascinating stuff to explore, such as:

- At the top of the salary scale, only Korea and Japan offer higher teacher salaries than the US. The US is also among the highest salaries at the new-teacher mark and the 15-year mark. In all but a few countries, teachers' statutory salaries have increased since 1994, but they have markedly fallen relative to other professions (though benefits were not considered).

- Countries that pay their teachers higher salaries to make up for giving them larger class sizes get more bang for their buck, in terms of student performance, than countries paying teachers lower salaries in exchange for giving them smaller class sizes.

- The US does a particularly bad job of hiring teachers without full qualifications; we join five other countries (Finland, Israel, the Slovak Republic, Belgium and Sweden) in reporting a rate higher than 10% of teachers who lack full credentials--while most countries manage to keep the percentage under 4%.

- Merit pay is widely used to address the ill distribution of qualified teachers to underserved schools, but other countries, particularly France, are also using other creative tactics. French teachers can earn bonus points towards an assignment in their dream school by working in a more challenging school for a period of time. In something akin to a "Special Forces" strategy, France is also assigning teams of new teachers who trained together to work in underserved schools.

- Some countries enjoy a level of selectivity that would be the envy of any US school district. In Korea, only 6% of qualified examinees for middle schools got hired. France hires only 21 percent of the teachers who go through training. However, Korea worries that it's not attracting enough of its top talent to the profession because the profession is so selective that they prefer to pursue better odds elsewhere.

- Teacher education gets the same bad rap in most countries, with most countries reporting that the required coursework is not sufficiently relevant to what actually happens in the classroom and that the field experiences are far too limited.

Neither of these mammoth studies is available in its entirety online, but there are excerpts and other relevant information available at the links below.

NCTQ had the privilege of writing the United States background report to this study, which--we like to remind our readers--is available on our website here, and which provides an excellent overview of teaching in the US...the perfect download for the student of ed policy or journalist, or even the teacher wonk who may forget a fact or trend here and there.