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Ensuring teacher quality: A global view

By April 23, 2013June 13th, 2016No Comments

E000061rThere are few things more talked about in U.S. education circles right now than how to improve evaluation for teachers. While states and districts are focused on what’s wrong with our current systems and how we can make them better—by changing what we evaluate, how often we evaluate, and even who evaluates—perhaps we should look to how other countries with the top student achievement rates in the world, such as Finland, South Korea, and Singapore, are already getting it right.

Only the best get in. Only 15 percent of Finnish prospective teachers are admitted into teacher programs. Once in, their preparation includes extensive coursework on teaching principles and at least one full year of in-school experience (Darling-Hammond, 2010). By the time Singaporean candidates pass a demanding test and panel interview, only one out of eight applicants successfully becomes a teacher (Tucker, 2011).

Teachers in high-performing countries also receive high-quality professional development in research methods and pedagogical practice, and they participate in it quite often. Common in Western European countries is “job-embedded professional development,” which supports teacher research on a specific learning practice. Because teachers are provided time and support for studying and evaluating their own teaching strategies, their learning is ongoing and sustained (Wei, Andree, & Darling-Hammond, 2009).

Teacher collaboration in high-performing countries ensures high teacher quality. In South Korea, only about 35 percent of teachers’ working time is spent teaching pupils. The rest is spent working in a shared office space exchanging instructional resources and ideas. Likewise, teachers in Finnish schools meet at least one afternoon each week to jointly plan and develop curriculum, and they are encouraged to share materials and work with teachers at other schools (Wei et al., 2009).

These methods appear to be working. Results from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) released in December 2012 reflect that in 4th-grade mathematics, Singapore, Korea, and Hong Kong were the top performers, followed by Chinese Taipei and Japan (Mullis, Martin, Foy, & Arora, 2012). According to the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), the top-performing countries in 4th-grade reading were Hong Kong, the Russian Federation, Finland, and Singapore (Mullis, Martin, Foy, & Drucker, 2012).

In addition, high-performing countries have high levels of graduation and post-graduate education. More than 99 percent of Finnish students, for example, complete upper secondary school and two-thirds of those graduates go on to universities or professional schools (Darling-Hammond, 2010).

While these practices may seem utopian to U.S. educators, they provide insight into how teacher quality in other countries contributes to the student achievement results that we strive for. To achieve best-in-the-world results, the United States needs to determine what best-in-the-world evaluation practices we can apply or modify to create the highest quality teachers.

How can these practices be implemented in your school? Do you have the time and resources to do so? Do you think they would improve teacher quality in your school or district?

Written by Jennifer Tuzzeo, Writer/Editor II


Darling-Hammond, L. (2010). What we can learn from Finland’s successful school reform. Retrieved from

Mullis, I. V. S., Martin, M. O., Foy, P., & Arora, A. (2012). Chestnut Hill, MA: TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center, Boston College. Retrieved from

Mullis, I. V. S., Martin, M. O., Foy, P., & Drucker, K. T. (2012). PIRLS 2001 international results in reading. Chestnut Hill, MA: TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center, Boston College. Retrieved from

Tucker, M. (2011). Standing on the shoulders of giants: An American agenda for education   reform. National Center on Education and the Economy. Retrieved from

Wei, R. C., Andree, A., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2009). How nations invest in teachers. Educational
Leadership, 66
(5), 28–33.

McREL is a non-profit, non-partisan education research and development organization that since 1966 has turned knowledge about what works in education into practical, effective guidance and training for teachers and education leaders across the U.S. and around the world.

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