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New survey: U.S. teachers teach more students in poverty, with special needs

Teachers teaching

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Interesting news release on teacher attitudes toward their jobs in the U.S. as compared to elsewhere:

U.S. teachers report high levels of job satisfaction, but two thirds do not believe their profession is valued by U.S. society and a majority face challenging circumstances in schools due to socio-economic factors and special needs, a new international survey by the OECD finds.

More than 100,000 teachers and school leaders at the lower secondary level (for students aged 11-16) in 34 countries and economies took part in OECD’s Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS). It aims to help countries develop a high-quality teaching profession by better understanding who teachers are and how they work.

The survey follows the 2012 launch of the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), in which U.S. students ranked 27th out of 34 OECD countries in math, 17th in reading, and 20th in science.

TALIS finds that 64 percent of U.S. teachers (survey average is 20 percent) work in schools where more than 30 percent of students come from socio-economically disadvantaged homes and 63 percent (survey average is 26 percent) work in schools where more than 10 percent of students have special needs. Despite challenges, 89.1 percent (Survey average is 91.2 percent) of teachers report a high level of job satisfaction, and express openness to further professional development. 

“This survey provides strong evidence that teachers are open to change and keen to learn and develop throughout their careers,” said Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills, launching the survey results in Tokyo.  “At the same time, they need to take more initiative to work with colleagues and school leaders, and take advantage of every opportunity for professional development.”

There is also room for growth in empowering teachers, the survey suggests. About one third of teachers surveyed believe that teaching is valued by U.S. society, posing a severe barrier to attracting, recruiting, and retaining high-quality teachers.  There is a strong correlation between countries where teachers believe their profession is valued and those that show high levels of student achievement, according to OECD findings. 

“We need to attract the best and brightest to join the profession. Teachers are the key in today’s knowledge economy, where a good education is an essential foundation for every child’s future success,” said Schleicher.

U.S. teachers report difficulties in several important areas. Though U.S. teachers report a high level of efficacy in their teaching, they report struggling to motivate students who show a low interest in school work, which only 62 percent [survey average is 70 percent] of U.S. teachers feel they are able to do regularly.

The overall survey findings indicate that in nearly all countries surveyed, teachers who are able to participate in decision-making for their school are more likely to report teaching as being a valued profession. Improved networking and mentoring opportunities have the potential to improve teachers’ perception of their value, and consequently attract top candidates into the profession, says the OECD.

U.S. teachers report a heavy work schedule, lack of incentives, and high expense as major factors preventing professional development.  Though U.S. teachers tend to participate in professional development at rates higher than the OECD average, they report a less positive impact than do teachers in other countries. 

 Around half of teachers across all countries surveyed report feeling that most appraisals are carried out merely as administrative exercises. Meanwhile 43 percent say appraisals are not strongly related to how they teach in the classroom.

The report detailing the TALIS findings, together with analysis for all 34 countries, summaries and data, is available here.

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