Report Calls on U.S. to Raise the Status of Teachers

As teachers across the nation take to the streets to demonstrate against budget cuts and layoffs, the status of the teaching profession in America seems to be at an all-time low. At the same time, poor student test scores are calling into question the value of the American educational system. These issues and others are addressed in a report released by the McGraw-Hill Research Foundation. The overriding message of the report is that in order to compete with other nations, the U.S. must raise the status of teachers.

The report, titled “What the U.S. Can Learn from the World’s Most Successful Education Reform Efforts,” is based on the results of an achievement test administered to 15-year-old students in 74 education system around the world. The test is known as the PISA. Students from the U.S. received only an average rank in the PISA, below top-performing students from South Korean, Finland, Canada, Japan and China.

In analyzing what the top-performing nations are doing differently from the U.S., in terms of education, the report placed teacher status at the top of the list, stating, “The teaching profession in the U.S. does not have the same high status it once did, nor does it compare with the status teachers enjoy in the world’s best-performing economies.” The report measured commitment to education in terms of how well teachers are paid, as well as how teachers are treated in society and how much government funding goes towards helping teachers do their jobs. The U.S. receives low marks in all of these areas.

In countries that scored high on the PISA test, university teaching programs recruit top students. After teachers finish their education and are certified, they earn a salary that is competitive with college graduates in other professions. In addition to low teacher salaries, the McGraw-Hill report also found fault with how educational funds are dispersed, with disproportionate amount of funding going towards non-educational items, like sports facilities and school transportation. Unless money earmarked for education is spent wisely, the quality of education will not improve and U.S. students will fall behind the rest of the world.

Despite its lackluster performance on the PISA test, the U.S. spends more on education per capita than almost any other nation. According to Andreas Schleicher, one of the authors of the McGraw-Hill report, “You can spend a lot of money on education, but if you don’t spend it wisely, on improving the quality of instruction, you won’t get higher student outcomes.”

President Obama is aware of the need to elevate the status of teachers in the U.S. and touched on the subject in a recent speech on education, “In South Korea, teachers are known as nation builders. I think it’s time we treated our teachers with the same level of respect right here in the United States of America.” The McGraw-Hill report expresses confidence that the U.S. can improve its education efforts by learning from the example of high-performing nations. South Korea is given as an example. In a time-span of two generations, it went from being ranked 24th in educational output to being among the top performers.

The McGraw-Hill report concludes by calling on the U.S. to recruit and support great teachers. By developing exceptional teachers as well as raising the level of regard for the teaching profession, the U.S. can once again become a leader in education and take its rightful place among the top performers in educational assessments. President Obama stated his commitment to the cause of education in a 2008 speech: “We’ll recruit teachers in math and science, and deploy them to under-staffed school districts in our inner cities and rural America. We’ll expand mentoring programs that pair experienced teachers with new recruits. And when our teachers succeed, I won’t just talk about how great they are -– I’ll reward their greatness with better pay and more support.” Now it is time for the government and nation to make these words a reality.

Subscribe to Certification Map’s monthly newsletter to receive updates about teacher certification, education news and much more.