International lessons in teacher retention

iStock_000014223132XSmallJust as the U.S. can learn lessons from other countries about improving student performance in math and reading, so can it learn lessons about attracting, developing and retaining quality teachers,  according to a new report from The Aspen Institute, “Lessons from Abroad: Teaching Policy to Improve Student Learning.”

Many countries have developed strategies to retain quality teachers, offer career progression, increase pay to educators and provide support for quality teaching. “They are focusing on who’s attracted to teaching, how to support and develop them as long as they are there, and how to provide opportunities and rewards that encourage the best teachers to stay in the profession,” says the report. “This thinking represents a fundamental shift in how American society, in particular, thinks about teaching.”

The latest generation of teachers has many more job opportunities than earlier generations, who entered their profession when women and people of color had limited access to other lines of work, the report states. Today, new teachers may not consider teaching as a lifelong career and others may come into the profession later in life as a second or third career so that administrators must increasingly manage a mix of short-timers and long-timers.

Below are some strategies used in other countries and highlighted in the report, which is based on a seminar conducted by the Aspen Institute in the fall of 2006. The seminar was attended by about two dozen policymakers, practitioners and researchers from eight countries: Australia, Canada, England, Japan, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States.

Career paths in Singapore

Since 2002, Singapore’s Ministry of Education has offered retention bonuses to teachers for every three to five years they stay. The resignation rate for teachers is less than 3%, the report says.
Singapore has a highly centralized education system with a national curriculum and national tests. Teachers are employed by the national Ministry of Education.  Applicants are drawn from the top 1/3 of their college classes and are paid a monthly stipend while they complete 1 to 3 years of teacher study.

After their first three years in the classroom, teachers can choose one of three career tracks: a leadership track, a teaching track or a specialist track for those interested in curriculum and instructional design, educational psychology and guidance, educational testing and measurement or educational research and statistics. Within the teaching track, teachers can move up from a “senior teacher” to a “master teacher” or “master teacher, level 2.”

Senior teachers serve as mentors and role models for other teachers and master teachers work on national initiatives or on assisting other schools. They provide advice and guidance to teachers and help introduce new teaching methods. To move up the career track, teachers must submit a professional portfolio of their work to a selection panel and must demonstrate the contributions they have made to the schools.

Singapore also has developed a performance-based pay plan for teachers. In addition to their base pay, individual teachers are eligible for annual bonuses, ranging from half a month’s to three months’ salary, based on the judgment of panels from their schools with day-to-day knowledge of the teacher’s work. The government pays for 100 hours per year of professional development for all teachers. Teachers also may spend two to three weeks working in private industry to gain a better understanding of real-world workplaces, the report says.

In a competitive, global labor market, the more productive people are being paid more, the report says.”To help make teaching a more attractive career choice, with more room for growth, many countries are creating new roles and responsibilities for teachers that reward their expertise without taking them out of the classroom,” the report says.

Recognizing expert teachers

“Whether they’re called ‘experienced colleagues’ in Switzerland, ‘guiding teachers’ in Japan, ‘consultants’ or ‘school-based coaches’ in the United States, or ‘lead teachers’ in Ontario, Canada, each of the nations participating in the Aspen meeting was seeking ways to recognize expert teachers, reward them for their abilities, and take advantage of their skills. “Creating a stronger connection between individual teachers’ contributions and what they are paid lies at the heart of redesigning teaching for the next generation.”

As part of a new professionalism agenda, England has designed a new pay system that gives experienced teachers access to an upper-level pay scale, but only if they volunteer to earn ‘experienced teacher status’ based on an appraisal of their performance. The government also introduced a career grade of “advanced skills teacher”. These teachers are paid a separate higher salary scale and spend 20% of their time on professional development for teachers in and outside their own school.

To become an advanced skills teacher, an individual must pass an assessment that includes a portfolio, interviews and observations of their teaching. The goal is to have 3-5% of the teaching force consist of advanced skills teachers, the report says.

As part of a larger movement toward decentralization, local municipalities in Sweden were put in charge of running the schools and were put in control of setting teacher salaries. After an economic downturn in the early 1990s, teachers’ unions obtained a significant increase in base salary for teachers with the condition that individual teachers would negotiate their pay increases directly with the school principal.

Among the concerns at the time were that half the teaching force had already reached the highest level on the salary scale and that younger teachers did not want to wait 18 years to earn a decent living.  Unions now work with each municipality over how much money is to be set aside for the individual pay system and to design guidelines for how it will work.
One Swedish representative noted that the new system has not worked exactly as planned–studies show that new teachers with the best pay development are the most likely to leave after five to seven years.

Learning environments in Ontario

Ben Levin, the deputy minister for the Ontario Ministry of Education in Canada observed that the ingredients for school improvement coincide with the conditions that teachers want: teaching assignments that fit their skills, strong leadership, a shared sense of mission, a reasonable degree of autonomy along with a high degree of collegiality and teamwork and effective communication about what the organization wants to accomplish.

Ontario’s Literacy and Numeracy Strategy is a major initiative designed to improve schools as places to work and learn, the report says. Local school boards and schools set achievement targets and improvement plans.

The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat within the ministry has collected and analyzed successful practices from 170 schools and encouraged use and sharing of those best practices across Ontario. The initiative has trained more than 10,000 teachers in summer programs over the last two years and collaborated with principals’ associations to provide more than 700 principals with professional development in creating learning communities. Lead teachers share best practices with other teachers in their schools.

Peer assistance in the United States

In the U.S., the Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) programs operate under joint agreements between unions and school districts in such cities as Cincinnati, Columbus, Toledo, OH and Rochester, NY Each new teacher is assigned a teacher consultant or mentor for two or three years; the mentor is released from full-time teaching duties.
Among the duties of the mentor are observing the novice’s teaching and conducting follow-up meetings, preparing periodic reports based on detailed evaluation criteria and producing a final appraisal that includes a recommendation on whether the teacher should receive a contract for the next year.

Consulting teachers typically receive a supplement equal to 10-20% of  base salary. They must apply for the positions and are selected based on teaching ability, good communication skills and the ability to work with others.

Districts with PAR programs report that they retain a higher-than-average number of beginning teachers. But, a small percent of first-year teachers also resign or do not have their contracts renewed because they are identified by consulting teachers as lacking necessary teaching skills, the report says.

One panel participant noted that while the PAR model has proven to be powerful it hasn’t spread very far. Another observed that once new teachers have proven they can be effective on the job in the first two or three years, they should receive a significant bump in status and salary to motivate them and encourage them to stay in teaching.

Supporting new teachers in Switzerland

Almost all cantons have induction programs that novice teachers must complete to be certified.  It’s not that teacher education is viewed as deficient, but that new teachers face specific problems that can be addressed, one official said.

In Zurich, each new teacher is assigned an experienced colleague at the school to help in the first two years. They do not evaluate the new teacher, but play an entirely supportive function. The mentor-colleagues receive special training and are compensated.  New teachers may also request up to 16 hours of individual counseling with an experienced teacher who has earned a counseling certificate.

Japan is also well-known for the support it provides to new teachers. The first year of teaching in Japan includes about 90 days of subsidized intensive training both in and out of school. New teachers are given reduced teaching responsibilities (about 75% of normal load) and are assigned to a guiding teacher. Unlike Zurich, however, guiding teachers receive no added compensation or special training. Guiding teachers may team-teach with the new teacher, visit and observe their classes, help with lesson planning and communicate through reflection journals.

“What all of the induction efforts across nations have in common is the recognition that teachers are not maximally effective on the first day they enter the classroom,” the report says. “Rather, novices need additional support and instruction as they struggle with issues common to beginning teachers.”

“Lessons from Abroad: Teaching Policy to Improve Student Learning”, The Aspen Institute, February 2007. To read the report go to

Published in ERN April 2007 Volume 20 Number 4

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