Teaching Policy to Improve Student Learning: Lessons From Abroad

Lynn Olson
Aspen Institute
February 2007

In this brief paper, Education Week editor Lynn Olson offers some lessons on revitalizing the teaching profession that she gleaned at a 2006 Aspen Institute seminar. The meeting brought together representatives from eight countries who discussed how they've tried to improve the quality and quantity of classroom instructors. Discussion revolved around three classes of teachers--"novice," "experienced," and "expert." Many of the ideas here are old hat to American educators. In Switzerland, for instance, novice teachers are assigned experienced mentors. But there are some interesting suggestions for strengthening the more-experienced teachers. To Japan, where senior teachers "are expected to change schools every 5 to 10 years so that their ideas and practices spread more readily from school to school and the best teachers are spread more evenly among schools." In addition, Japan's government subsidizes 40 days of intensive professional development for teachers in their tenth year. In other countries, reforms have been more radical. Singapore maintains a regimented system of career tracks in which promotions are based strictly on performance assessments. In Sweden, by contrast, principals negotiate raises and bonuses on a teacher-by-teacher basis. The paper is short and anecdotal, and Olson never examines how a nation's teacher policies may affect student achievement. But it offers food for thought and can be found here.