OECD: Teacher Professionalism Needs Improvement Worldwide

Teachers in Europe tend to have a higher level of autonomy than teachers in East Asian countries, the Middle East and Latin America. However, education systems in East Asian countries are more likely to emphasize peer networking. Yet both regions of the world have higher-scoring and lower-scoring PISA countries. In other words, there are no hard and fast rules for figuring out what makes for a quality teaching force, which is a problem especially for those schools that could most benefit from them. That's the overall finding of a new international study put out by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) that examines "teacher professionalism." OECD is the same organization that runs the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a triennial international survey that attempts to evaluate education systems worldwide.

The point of the more recent research project was to look at three basic questions: What does teacher professionalism look like around the world? How do activities related to teacher professionalism affect educator job satisfaction and commitment to teaching? And how does the overall composition of students in a school affect teacher professionalism and their satisfaction with the job?

The results aren't purely academic. A report of results suggested that the way that teachers are supported can influence their satisfaction with their present employers. And the practices that support strong teacher professionalism are particularly beneficial in schools with a high population of students who are "socio-economically disadvantaged," are second-language learners or have other special needs.

"Teachers in such schools can face many challenges that are unfamiliar to teachers in well-performing, low needs schools," Analyst Katarzyna Kubacka wrote in a blog article about the report. Kubacka, who served on the TALIS research team, noted that, "Unfortunately, practices to support teacher professionalism are, in many countries, less frequent in high than in low needs schools. This is a missed opportunity to provide a boost to teachers in challenging situations, particularly because the positive relationship between teacher professionalism and job satisfaction is amplified in high needs schools."

The report is based on a survey of teachers and principals in 34 countries and economies around the world as well as data collection from "an additional four systems" that took place after the original data collection.

The researchers defined teacher professionalism as covering three domains:

  • A knowledge base that includes the necessary knowledge for teaching, including pre-service formal education, support for in-service professional learning and practitioner research, among other best practices;
  • Autonomy or the teachers' decision-making abilities related to their work (asked not of the teachers themselves but of the principals they report to), such as curriculum choices, learning materials and course content; and
  • Peer networks to provide opportunities for information exchange and support, including such practices as participation in a formal induction program and development of a professional development plan.

For the sake of "scoring" teacher professionalism in each country or world region, the researchers calculated the "average number of best practices" that teachers enjoyed in those study areas.

Among the overall findings worldwide:

  • Teachers have more support for pre-service education than in-service professional development;
  • Teachers are least likely to get financial support for in-service professional development outside of working hours;
  • Of the five areas of possible autonomy (content, course offerings, discipline practices, assessment and materials), teachers overall have the most say over what materials are used in their courses and considerably less in the other areas;
  • Most peer networking comes in the form of direct observations by peers and supervisors rather than participation in a PD network or formal induction program; and
  • Primary and lower secondary teachers (those teaching students ages 12-15) are more likely to participate in a pre-service education program than upper secondary teachers (working with students ages 16-18); yet the latter group is more likely to have higher levels of autonomy.

Although scores for the United States were included in two areas of the report for "information purposes," because it didn't meet "international participation rates," it was left out of the bulk of the research results. That said, what the report shared about the United States exposes some definite gaps. According to the researchers, more than 9 in 10 (95 percent) teachers have participated in teacher education programs; yet only two-thirds (65 percent) get release time for professional learning and only 4 in 10 (41 percent) participate in research. As with teachers globally, the biggest area of autonomy appears to be control over materials (61 percent). Only 1 in 4 has say over discipline practices (27 percent) or assessments (26 percent). While nearly every American teacher (97 percent) receives feedback from direct observation, only half (47 percent) participate in teacher networks.

While the report shrinks from making "any assumptions about what policies will work best in any one education system," the researchers do put forth four recommendations for supporting teacher professionalism:

  • Require teachers to participate in pre-service formal teacher education programs;
  • Expand induction and mentoring programs;
  • Support teachers in conducting classroom-based individual or collaborative research; and
  • Encourage teachers to participate in networking with other teachers.

These are especially "beneficial," researchers reported, in schools with high concentrations of students in need. "One of the best investments [high needs] schools can make in increasing teacher satisfaction is providing practices that support teacher professionalism."

As Kubacka explained, "By supporting these practices, stakeholders can build a teaching force that is more professional, happier and more confident. The results might not be seen in a teacher's appearance, but definitely in the quality of the teaching and learning."

The report is available for viewing online. The primary page for the research project is on the OECD Web site.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.