International Survey: U.S. Teachers Grapple With Low Support, High Rate of Student Poverty

International Survey: U.S. Teachers Grapple With Low Support, High Rate of Student Poverty
Monica Fuglei July 16, 2014

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The headlines have spoken: According to new data from the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), American teachers have some of the longest work weeks, highest student poverty rates, least guidance, and lowest collaborative work time among their international peers.

While this may seem depressing, the TALIS reveals where U.S. education policy must improve. Examining the TALIS results can lead to positive and measurable change in teacher’s resources —  and help raise student performance on the international scale.

What does the Teaching and Learning International Survey measure?

The TALIS is a survey run by the Organisation for Economic and Co-operation and Development (OECD), an international organization that seeks to provide data-driven recommendations and analysis. Because OECD believes that effective teachers are essential in creating successful students, they use the Teaching and Learning International Survey to study teaching-related trends.

Participating nations submit a representative sample of surveys from their lower secondary education teachers and school leaders. The survey collects information regarding teacher training, professional development, teacher feedback, and school leadership practices, as well as socioeconomic information. This allows OECD to identify which nations face similar difficulties and help provide analysis and guidance to improve teacher support and performance.

The most recent survey, released in late June, was the first in which American teachers participated. Unfortunately, the American participation rate was low enough that they were not included in the International Report, but OECD compiled a country note for the United States that shed light on the results.

Good news: American teachers are highly educated and love their jobs

Some of the information gathered from the TALIS is quite positive. The United States has a slightly higher number of male teachers than the international average. 99 percent of teachers report completing a university program, with 95 percent having taken specific teacher training programs.

American teachers show high rates of career satisfaction, feeling that their job challenges are outweighed by the benefits and that, given a chance to do it over, they would choose the profession again. All of the teachers surveyed reported being subject to formal evaluation process and many report these evaluations included direct observation, student test score analysis, and parent and student feedback.

Bad news: U.S. teachers have more students living in poverty than other industrialized nations

There were also some less positive results. American teachers, more so than many other industrialized nations, teach in schools with high rates of poverty. Two-thirds of American teachers surveyed report that they are teaching in schools with 30 percent or higher rates of free and reduced lunch. This sheds light on some of the challenges these teachers face, as research clearly correlates student performance with poverty.

While low-income students can and do succeed, closing the education gap has been particularly difficult without investment and collaboration. Additionally, American teachers report a significantly higher than average number of special needs students. These two challenges have an influence on outcomes.

American teachers have long work weeks, less time for collaboration and mentoring

Other red flags appeared as well. Teachers reported that they do not feel valued by society, often work independently, and work longer work weeks. In an effort to address our lagging performance on international tests like the PISA, educational policy has focused on increasing instructional time, sometimes to the detriment of teacher planning and collaboration.

While American teachers report having slightly more time devoted to professional development than their international counterparts, they do not report their professional development having a significant influence on their teaching. Particularly troubling is the low rate of instructor feedback and collaboration.

OECD suggestions for improving U.S. teacher’s resources

In their Country Note for the United States, OECD offered suggestions for policy changes in the United States. Probably the most essential change is for principals and other administrators to increase opportunities for interpersonal relationship building among their teachers as well as chances for co-teaching, collaborative planning, classroom observations, as well as mentoring and coaching.

Building mentoring and coaching networks also opens the doors to another of OECD’s suggestions which is to increase teacher power at the school level and increase their decision-making ability within their school. To combat their sense of not being appreciated, teachers should be given opportunities for collaborative work as well as a leadership position in the school, as those who are afforded these  tend to report that they feel most valued by society.

Because 2013 is the first year the United States participated in the TALIS, there is no longitudinal data to study and see how educational policy is addressing issues at the teacher level, but the first results provide insightful data as to what could and should be long-term goals to improve both teacher satisfaction and student performance.

Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.

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