Looking Beyond the U.S. for Best Practices in Educator Professional Development

As U.S. state and local education agencies wrestle with how to train effective teachers – especially now that ESSA has removed the high quality teacher requirements – researchers are again turning to other countries to look for best practices for professional learning. Two new reports from the National Center on Education and the Economy’s (NCEE) Center on International Education Benchmarking (CIEB) say the U.S. model of teacher professional learning far underperforms key competitor countries. The main difference, according to the research, is that in the countries studied comprehensive educator learning and advancement is more effectively  integrated into the school year and is seen as essential to improving student achievement when compared to typical U.S. professional development models.

“When teachers have strong incentives to get better and better at their work, and they are given the opportunity to work together every day in teams to improve student achievement, they never stop seeking and finding information that can help them do a better job,” said NCEE President and CEO Marc Tucker, in a press release. “Professional development in the top performing systems is built directly into the way teachers do that work every day; it is not something that happens in workshops. Teachers in these systems want to improve their practice because their progression through the system’s well-defined career pathways is dependent upon their effectiveness as professionals.”

Key takeaways from Beyond PD: Teacher Professional Learning in High-Performing Systems include: 

  • Across all four high-performing systems analyzed—British Columbia (Canada), Hong Kong, Shanghai (China) and Singapore — professional learning is central to teachers’ jobs. It is not an “add on,” something done on Friday afternoons or on a few days at the end of the school year.
  • While these systems are quite different, key to all of them is that collaborative, professional learning is built into the daily lives of teachers and school leaders. This is reinforced by resourcing policies that free up teachers’ time for collaborative professional learning.
  • Professional learning in high-performing systems is built on an improvement cycle that is aimed at improving student learning.
  • High-performing systems develop specialist expertise among their teachers.

Key takeaways from Developing Shanghai’s Teachers include:

  • Shanghai’s career ladder, first developed in 1986, is a comprehensive career framework that spans entry-level to senior classroom teachers as well as school principals. It is a driving force behind teachers’ continuous professional development.
  • As a primary objective of the career ladder is to increase prestige for the profession, a key component is a rigorous set of qualification requirements that ensures the profession and the public know that teachers are among the most highly skilled members of society.
  • Teachers are encouraged to seek promotion along the professional ladders through becoming more expert in research on teaching, thereby improving the profession’s research competence.

Read Beyond PD: Teacher Professional Learning in High-Performing Systems, by Ben Jensen, Julie Sonnemann, Katie Roberts-Hull and Amélie Hunter, National Center on Education and the Economy  (January 2016).

Read Developing Shanghai’s Teachers, by Minxuan Zhang, Xiaojing Ding and Jinjie Xu, National Center on Education and the Economy (January 2016).


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