“We are very proud of our teachers,” declared the Finnish Minister of Education, speaking in New York at the first-ever International Summit on Teaching, which took place last week in New York, reports Linda Darling-Hammond.
Writing a blog in The Washington Post, Darling-Hammond, the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education as Stanford University, points out that this is a statement rarely heard in the United States. It is her belief that the approach to teaching in the U.S. is almost diametrically opposed to the approach used by the highest-achieving nations.
Teachers Earn 60% Of The Salaries Earned By Other College Graduates
And she continues:
It was the first time that government officials and union leaders from 16 nations met together in candid conversations that found substantial consensus about how to create a well-prepared and accountable teaching profession.
And it was, perhaps, the first time that the growing de-professionalization of teaching in America was recognized as out of step with the strategies pursued by the world’s educational leaders.
Evidence presented at the summit showed that, with dwindling supports, most teachers in the United States must go into debt in order to prepare for an occupation that pays them, on average, 60% of the salaries earned by other college graduates. Those who work in poor districts will not only earn less than their colleagues in wealthy schools, but they will pay for many of their students’ books and supplies themselves.
And with states’ willingness to lower standards rather than raise salaries for the teachers of the poor, a growing number of recruits enter with little prior training, trying to learn on-the-job with the uneven mentoring provided by cash-strapped districts. It is no wonder that a third of U.S. beginners leave within the first five years, and those with the least training leave at more than twice the rate of those who are well-prepared.
Finland, Singapore And China Take Teaching Seriously
Let’s look at some of the other differences that Darling-Hammond points out:
* In Finland and Singapore, prospective teachers come from a pool of the best graduates, they enter a high-quality preparation program, and they receive a salary while they prepare. They enter a well-paid profession and are supported by mentor teachers and have 15 or more hours professional time a week to engage in shared planning.
* In Singapore, teachers are encouraged to pursue career ladders, and as they expand their opportunities, more training is paid for by the government. The teacher evaluation system does not use numbers to rate teachers, but focuses on how well teachers develop the whole child and contribute to each other’s efforts and the welfare of the whole school.
* In China, billions of yen are being spent on a plan to improve millions of teachers’ preparation, professional development and working conditions, including building special teachers’ housing.
The United States Does Not Take Teaching Seriously
To this we can compare the thousands of teachers being laid off around the United States, and attempts like those in Wisconsin to eliminate collective bargaining, creating the very real possibility of salaries and working conditions sinking still lower.
Here’s how Darling-Hammond finishes her blog:
Clearly, another first is called for if we are ever to regain our educational standing in the world: A first step toward finally taking teaching seriously in America. Will our leaders be willing to take that step? Or will we devolve into a third class power because we have neglected our most important resource for creating a first-class system of education?
Let’s hope President Obama and Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan are paying attention.
photo from iStock