A recent study of the professional development of teachers identified four key areas in which nations with high student achievement tend to have an advantage over the United States:
Support for new teachers
•Many countries mandate mentoring or other support for beginning teachers. In New Zealand, new teachers spend 20 percent of their time being coached. In Norway, each new teacher is paired with a teacher trained as a mentor. In Switzerland, novices meet with practice groups from other schools for peer evaluation.
• The US has made progress in this area. In the early 1990s, about half of new teachers participated in support programs. A decade later, that had grown to two-thirds, and 7 out of 10 had a mentor.
Teaching versus planning time
•In most European and Asian countries, about half of a teacher's workweek, 15 to 20 hours, is spent outside the classroom – preparing lessons, meeting with students and parents, and working with colleagues. In South Korea, teachers spend up to 65 percent of their working time outside the classroom. In Japan, teachers study one another's best lessons in groups and analyze the strengths and weaknesses.
•American teachers are typically given three to five hours a week for planning.
Participation in decisions
•In countries such as Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland, national curriculum is a broad framework, and school leaders and teachers work together on the details of instruction. Teachers in many nations regularly help decide on budgets and design major tests. In Hong Kong, Australia, and Singapore, teams of teachers research improvements for the curriculum and solutions to classroom problems.
•In the US, about 6 out of 10 teachers report having moderate influence over curriculum decisions and standards. Only 22 percent say they have influence on the school budget.
•Many nations invest significantly in the ongoing improvement of teachers. In Singapore, Sweden, and the Netherlands, teachers have at least 100 hours of professional development each year. In England, teacher training has been credited with raising the portion of students meeting literacy standards from 63 percent to 75 percent over three years. In Sweden, the government pays for one university course for any teacher. For some, it also pays for a substantial portion of postgraduate education.
•Most US teachers report that the professional development they receive rarely goes deep enough. Just over half of teachers were given time away from regular duties for professional development in 2003-04. Thirty-eight percent received stipends for such activities, and 14 percent were reimbursed for college tuition. Some states, such as Arkansas, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, have significantly higher participation and support.
– Summarized from the 2009 report “Professional Learning in the Learning Profession” by Linda Darling-Hammond and others, which was published by the National Staff Development Council and the School Redesign Network