What can PISA tell us about teacher policies?

By Francesco Avvisati
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

Teachers are the most important resource in today’s schools. Teacher salaries and training represent the greatest share of education spending in every country, and for good reason: students who are taught by the best teachers have much higher chances of succeeding in learning and life. It should come as no surprise, then, that policy makers across the world have focused greater attention on teaching, as they strive to improve student learning and make education more equitable and inclusive.

A new report published today aims to guide policy-makers in their quest for effective teacher policies by analysing data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and other OECD databases. Our report, Effective Teacher Policies: Insights from PISA, examines how the best-performing countries select, develop, evaluate and compensate teachers; how teacher sorting across schools affects the equity of education systems; and how countries can attract and retain talented candidates to the teaching profession.

It is entirely within our means to attract, retain and develop high-quality teachers.

The report shows that not all students have equal access to high-quality teaching, and that this inequality can explain much of the learning gaps observed between the most advantaged and disadvantaged students – both within and across countries. (See this month’s PISA in Focus for more.) In about half of the 69 countries and economies examined, teachers in schools with high concentrations of disadvantaged students tend to have lower qualifications or credentials than teachers in the most advantaged schools. And in education systems where this is observed – including France, Italy, the Netherlands and the public school system in the United States – the gap in student performance related to socio-economic status tends to be wider than in countries such as Canada, Finland, Japan, or Korea, where teacher qualifications, credentials and experience are more balanced across schools.

The report also finds that in some countries, teachers truly are seen as lifelong learners, who constantly seek to improve their practice with support from principals and colleagues. High-performing countries such as Australia and Singapore help teachers bridge between theory and practice with a mandatory and extended period of practical classroom training at the start of their career. These countries cultivate a habit of inquiry and reflection throughout teachers’ careers, as well – for example, through school workshops to address major issues or by using teacher evaluation instruments to develop a learning plan for all teachers.

And contrary to popular belief, our report shows that high-performing systems do not enjoy a natural privilege simply due to a traditional respect for teachers. These systems have also developed a high-quality teaching force through deliberate policy choices that were carefully implemented over time. There is, in other words, no room to feel complacent or resigned about the education system of any country. As our report shows, it is entirely within our means to attract, retain and develop high-quality teachers, and to deploy the best teachers where the challenges are greatest, thereby redressing the inequities that limit opportunities for so many students.

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