Fighting for Equity in Education

The struggle is long but hope is longer

Train Teachers as Education Researchers Says OECD Report

Monday April 18, 2011

The most successful countries in school education make teaching an attractive, high status profession, and provide training for teachers to become educational innovators and researchers who have responsibility for reform. These were among key findings presented last month at the International Summit on the Teaching Profession in New York.

The summit was held to identify best practices for recruiting, training and supporting teachers. It was hosted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the US Department of Education, Education International, the US National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Asia Society and the public broadcaster WNET.

A background report Building a High-quality Teaching Profession: Lessons from Around the World was prepared for the summit by the head of the OECD’s directorate for education, Andreas Schleicher.

The fundamental message of the report is the importance of developing a positive role for teachers in educational change. It says that if teachers are simply seen as “part of the problem”, having to be ordered to change their practices and improve their performance, teaching will not attract those with talent and ambition, teachers will not be encouraged to take responsibility, and those supporting teacher interests will tend to resist reform. Rather, teachers need to become the central part of the solution, and given the tools and responsibility to lead change.

It is a message both the Gillard Government and the Opposition would do well to listen to and take on board.

The OECD report discusses four main areas – teacher recruitment and preparation; development, support and retention of teachers; teacher evaluation and compensation; and teacher engagement in education reform.

Teacher recruitment and initial training
The report says that to attract high-quality recruits to teaching research shows the education systems that perform best often aim to recruit their teachers “from the same pool from which all their top professionals are recruited”. However, it notes, such people may not be attracted to schools organised in “prescriptive work environments that use bureaucratic management to direct their work”.

Successful education systems are those that have been reorganised to replace such bureaucracy with professional norms providing the status, pay, professional autonomy and high-quality professional education and responsibility that go with professional work.

While acknowledging the importance of recruitment and selection of promising graduates, the report says this is can only be one of several components of human resource management in education. Indeed, it says that the frequently cited claim that the best-performing education systems all recruit their teachers from the top-third of graduates is not supported by the evidence.

This calls into question the new standard for entrance into teacher training courses announced by the Federal Minister for Education, Peter Garrett, following a meeting of state and federal education ministers last week. Under tougher university entry requirements to be introduced from 2013, students who want to study teaching at university will have to score in the top 30 per cent of the population in literacy and numeracy.

The OECD report says that much more needs to be done. It says that high-performing countries have found ways of educating teachers to become more effective and play an active role in reform:

...countries that have succeeded in making teaching an attractive profession have often done so not just through pay, but by raising the status of teaching, offering real career prospects, and giving teachers responsibility as professionals and leaders of reform. This requires teacher education that helps teachers to become innovators and researchers in education, not just deliverers of the curriculum.

Further:

In many high-performing education systems teachers do not only have a central role to play in improving educational outcomes, they are also at the centre of the improvement efforts themselves. In these systems it is not that top-down reforms are ordering teachers to change, but that teachers embrace and lead reform, taking responsibility as professionals.

The report identifies several principles adopted by high-performing countries to educate teachers to become more effective. First, it says education systems benefit from “clear and concise profiles of what teachers are expected to know and be able to do in specific subject areas”. These profiles can guide initial teacher education, teacher certification, continuing evaluation, professional development and career advancement, and help assess how effective these elements are. This is one area of positive change in Australia.

Second, many countries have moved initial teacher education programmes towards “a model based less on academic preparation and more on preparing professions in school settings, with an appropriate balance between theory and practice”. The report says that in these programmes:

...teachers get into classrooms earlier, spend more time there and get more and better support in the process. This can include extensive course work on how to teach – with strong emphasis on using research based on state-of-the-art practice – and more than a year teaching in a designated school associated with the university, during which time the teacher is expected to develop and pilot innovative practices and undertake research on learning and teaching.

Third, the report finds “more flexible structures of initial teacher education can be effective in opening up new routes into the teaching career without compromising the rigour of traditional routes”. The stages of initial training, induction and professional development should be interconnected to create a lifelong learning framework for teachers, it says.

In addition to basic training in subject-matter, pedagogy related to subjects and general pedagogical knowledge, teacher training in many successful countries is also designed to develop skills for reflective practice and on-the-job research, and emphasise teachers’ capacity to diagnose student problems and find appropriate solutions.

Increasingly, initial teacher education tends to place more emphasis on developing the capacity of teachers in training to diagnose student problems swiftly and accurately and to draw from a wide repertoire of possible solutions those that are appropriate to the diagnosis.

The report notes that some countries provide teachers with the research skills to enable them to improve their practice. For example, both Finland and Shanghai train teachers to be action researchers in practice “with the ability to work out ways of ensuring that any student starting to fall behind is helped effectively”.

Teacher development
Transforming teaching does not just involve high quality recruiting and initial education; it also requires that those who are now teaching adapt to constantly changing demands. The report cites a recommendation of a 2009 ILO /UNESCO report:

Teaching career structures…are evolving to encourage better teaching practices and incentives for teachers to remain in teaching, but much more needs to be done to link teacher education and professional development, evaluation and career progression. Evidence from international surveys…point to a general lack of professional development support adapted to the needs of teachers and learners.

The OECD report itself says:

The transformation of today’s teaching force requires smarter development of professionals than is typical in most educations systems. While more resources need to go into such development, simply laying on more courses may not achieve much. Above all, professional development needs to be integrated with both an individual teacher’s career and school and system change. At the career level, in-service education, appraisal and reward need to be closely aligned. At the same time, learning that improves individual competencies and collaboration among teachers to produce better instruction in the classroom must go hand-in-hand.

Research has identified several features of successful teacher development programs. First, well-structured and -resourced induction programs can support new teachers in their transition to full teaching responsibilities before they obtain all the rights and responsibilities of full-time professional teachers. In some countries, once teachers have completed their pre-service education and begun their teaching, they begin one or two years of heavily supervised teaching. During this period, the beginning teacher typically receives a reduced workload, mentoring by master teachers, and continued formal instruction.

Second, effective professional development needs to be on-going, include training, practice and feedback, and provide adequate time and follow-up support. Successful programs involve teachers in learning activities that are similar to those they will use with their students, and encourage the development of teachers’ learning communities.

Third, teacher development needs to be linked with wider goals of school and system development, and with appraisal and feedback practices and school evaluation. There is also often a need to re-examine structures and practices that inhibit inter-disciplinary practice and to provide more room for teachers to take time to learn deeply, and employ inquiry- and group-based approaches, especially in the core areas of curriculum and assessment.

Teacher evaluation and compensation
The report says that teacher evaluation is essential for improving the individual performance of teachers and the collective performance of education systems. However, designing teacher-appraisal methods is not easy, and requires the objectives of accountability and improvement to be carefully balanced. A crucial feature is what criteria teachers are appraised against, including, but not limited to, student performance. Also important are the degree to which teachers improve their professional skills and, crucially, the part they play in improving the school and system as a whole. The report says that comparative research on the effectiveness of different models is just beginning to emerge.

Effective teacher appraisal requires careful implementation. It requires the development of considerable expertise in the system, including training evaluators, establishing evaluation processes and aligning broader school reforms, such as professional development opportunities, with evaluation and assessment strategies. All of these require considerable resources, including time.

The report also notes that teacher compensation is another sensitive issue. It says that “research in this field is difficult and there are few reliable studies”.

Those who argue in support of performance-based rewards say that it is fairer to reward teachers who perform well rather than paying all equally; performance-based pay motivates teachers and improves student performance; and a clearer connection between spending on schools and student performance builds public support. Those who oppose performance-based pay usually argue that fair and accurate evaluation is difficult, because performance cannot be determined objectively; co-operation among teachers is reduced; teachers are not motivated by financial rewards; teaching becomes narrowly focused on the criteria being used; and the costs of implementation are too high.

The report says that performance-based reward systems in OECD countries can be classified into three types: “Performance pay”, which generally involves measuring teacher performance based on student outcomes and other measures and providing strong performers with higher pay and, in some cases, advancement opportunities; “Knowledge and skill-based” compensation, which generally involves higher pay for demonstrated knowledge and skills which are believed to enhance student performance; and “School-based compensation”, which generally involves group-based financial reward.

Teacher involvement in reform
The report says that it is essential to build a constructive political process in which teachers share with politicians and administrators the main goals of reform. Teacher engagement in the development and implementation of educational reform is therefore crucial and school reform will not work unless it is supported from the bottom up. It says that evidence from around the world shows that collaborative models of educational reform can be highly effective. Teachers should contribute as the architects of change, not just its implementers. It further notes that some of the most successful reforms are those supported by strong unions rather than those that keep the union role weak.

Trevor Cobbold

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