United States Behind Other Nations in Teacher Professional Development

Below is an excerpt from the executive summary of a report done by the National Staff Development Council. 

 Copies of the report are available online at www.nsdc.org/stateproflearning.cfm. The report summarizes a more in-depth research report, the complete version of which can be found at www.nsdc.org/stateproflearning.cfm and at http://www.srnleads.org

Following are some examples of approaches to professional learning that provide lessons for states and the federal government.

•      In South Korea – much like Japan and Singapore – only about 35 percent of teachers’ working time is spent teaching pupils. Teachers work in a shared office space during out-of-class time, since the students stay in a fixed classroom while the teachers rotate to teach them different subjects. The shared office space facilitates sharing of instructional resources and ideas among teachers, which is especially helpful for new teachers.


Teachers in many of these countries engage in intensive lesson study in which they develop and fine-tune lessons together and evaluate their results.

• In Finland, teachers meet one afternoon each week to jointly plan and develop curriculum, and schools in the same municipality are encouraged to work together to share materials.

• More than 85 percent of schools in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland provide time for professional development in teachers’ work day or week, according to OECD.

In Singapore, the government pays for 100 hours of professional development each year for all teachers in addition to the 20 hours a week they have to work with other teachers and visit each others’ classrooms to study teaching. With the help of the National Institute of Education, teachers engage in collective action research projects to evaluate and improve their teaching strategies.

England has instituted a national training program in best-practice literacy methods, using videotapes of teaching, training materials, and coaches who are available to work in schools. This effort coincided with a subsequent rise in the percentage of students meeting the target literacy standards from 63 percent to 75 percent in just three years.

• Since 2000, Australia has been sponsoring the Quality Teacher Programme, which provide funding for curriculum and professional development materials used in a trainer of trainers model to update and improve teachers’ skills and understandings in priority areas and enhance the status of teaching in both government and non-government schools.

The experiences of these countries, the report says, “underscore the importance of on-the-job learning with colleagues as well as sustained learning from experts in content and pedagogy. The diversity of approaches indicates that schools can shape professional learning to best fit their circumstances and teacher and student learning needs.”



2 Responses to “United States Behind Other Nations in Teacher Professional Development”

  1. Brad Jolly Says:

    John, it would have been helpful had you pointed out that the “National Staff Development Council” (NSDC) is funded largely by the teachers’ union and its members. The NSDC is not a scientific body; it is an advocacy group with an ax to grind. Its “reports” should be viewed warily, if at all.

  2. Brad Jolly Says:

    I talked with a Singaporean teacher friend of mine. About the 35% assertion, she said “I think 35% is quite low” and went on to explain how her time is actually spent.
    Regarding the sharing of fine-tuning of lessons, she said, “Yes, we do share lessons and ideas. We have a sort of shared platform whereby a few schools get together to load the lesson plans onto a web.”
    Regarding the 100 hours of paid professional development, she said “Almost very true. All training are paid and all teachers are encouraged to sign up courses for professional improvement.”
    According to this teacher, there was a decent amount of truth in the NSDC report, along with some exaggeration.
    Did the NSDC report mention that the average class size in Singapore is around 40? If we went to that kind of model, we could certainly fund 100 hours per year of staff development. Singapore also provides funding for parochial schools as well as public schools, and as a result they save money by eliminating the costs associated with having an unaccountable monopoly deliver services. I would support that as well.

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