Thursday, July 9, 2020
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Reversing the growing teacher gap (OECD & TALIS)

Stanford University professor Linda Darling-Hammond, in the Huffington Post, describes a recent international survey about teaching from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) entitled TALIS, or the Teaching and Learning International Survey. It shows the differences in the teaching profession in different countries and the changing trends.

The US was not a significant participant in the study because the volume of data from US teachers was too low to draw comparisons with teachers in other OECD nations, but the organization prepared a separate report for the US, which was presented at a webinar in late June.

“Nearly two-thirds of US middle-school teachers work in schools where more than 30 percent of students are economically disadvantaged,” Ms Darling-Hammond wrote, highlighting the economic disadvantage many US students face. “This is by far the highest rate in the world, and more than triple the average TALIS rate. The next countries in line after the United States are Malaysia and Chile.”

Other conclusions we can draw about teaching in the US:

  • Teachers in the US put in longer hours than those in any other TALIS nation (27 hours per week directly instructing students vs the TALIS average of 19). They work more hours in total each week than their global counterparts (45 versus the TALIS average of 38) and have much less time in their schedules for planning, collaboration, and professional development.
  • Poor kids are harder to teach and resources need to be sent their way. Two bills in Congress, known as the CORE Act, for “Core Opportunity Resources for Equity and Excellence,” S.2557 and its House companion, seek to provide resources for schools that serve predominantly low-income students.

Preparing 21st-century students with 21st-century skills

In the US, many of the trends in the teaching profession—an increase in testing and so on—can be explained by the changing needs of the US workforce. The OECD has found that the very nature of jobs in the US has changed since the 1960s so dramatically that old-fashioned teacher preparation just might not cut it.

The graph above shows the change in the demand for skills in different tasks in occupations for the US, based on a starting value of the 50th percentile in 1960. In other words, compared to the 1960s, we don’t work with our hands as much, we work quite a bit more with our brains solving unique rather than everyday problems, and we work much, much more on interpersonal skills today.

Right, so this has resulted in teachers putting more emphasis on communication skills, such as writing, speaking, and even the development of multimedia presentations across all areas of the curriculum. The Common Core standards, for example, promote literacy in science, social studies, and other core subjects, while encouraging even orchestra directors to develop students’ communication skills during their rehearsals.

The problem, however, is that this new emphasis has widened the teaching and digital gap between schools in affluent suburbs, whose teachers typically attend more professional development activities and learn to incorporate new trends in their subject areas, and those in the inner city. Kids in city schools don’t have access to as much technology, as a general rule, and their teachers don’t have the same level of experience as those in schools in wealthier neighborhoods.

This can be viewed as another example of the have’s and have not’s, but while that perspective is certainly valid, it doesn’t help to erase the inequity.

Redesigning schools to promote collaboration

The report advises US schools to step up collaboration. This is nothing new, but while schools can certainly take steps to have teachers work together and provide feedback to their peers (evaluations were another aspect of teaching identified by OECD where the US could use some improvement), I think corporations might do collaboration a little better.

Many corporations have been collaborating on projects with people across the country for years, using Google docs, Skype, and other technology-enhanced communication and collaboration methods. The opportunity, once again, to partner with business is ripe.

Will schools get the message and act on it, or will they continue to shut out corporations in light of the strong push from corporate reformers in the area of testing and high-stakes teacher evaluations? How’s the collaboration and PD at your school?

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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