Teacher Status and Student Achievement: A Global Comparison

On the 17th of March, as may as 1,800 teachers across 26 state run upper secondary schools in Iceland have gone on strike. [1] Updates that followed nine days later reported that the strike was still ongoing with no end in sight. [2] The Icelandic Teacher’s Union, Kennarasamband Islands (KI), has cited that teachers earn, on average, 17% less than other university-educated workers in the public sector.  Further, a law was changed in 2008 calling for teachers at all levels to obtain a Masters degree in order to get a teaching license, however teacher’s salaries have not increased as much as those for other professions since 2006.  Teachers are now fighting for better conditions with support from the union, and the president of KI has stated that they will back down until their demands are met. [3]

Interestingly, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) “warned Iceland that because the salary difference between teachers and other university-level professions is too large, young people are not interested in becoming teachers and choose other professions.” [3] Essentially, the OECD is commenting on the ways in which indicators of teacher status, one of which is monetary compensation, affect how the best and brightest young people are attracted to the teaching profession.  This ultimately has very obvious implications for the quality of education and student achievement.

Speaking further to this issue, in October 2013, the Varkey GEMS Foundation published a study, the 2013 Global Teacher Status Index[4] In the foreword of this report the chairman of the foundation, Sunny Varkey, states that research shows that better paid teachers are associated with greater student outcomes overall.  In 95% of the countries surveyed, survey respondents thought that teachers should be paid more than the salary participants thought teachers currently received; this held true even in Finland, a country that already achieves outstanding results in student achievement. [4] Of note, in the United States, people generally underestimate the salaries that teachers actually make, and teachers generally make more than people deem a fair amount; along with this, 80% of people in the US support performance-related pay for teachers, which was an overwhelming trend in the study overall. [4] While Varkey supports governments increasing the pay and working conditions for teachers as a whole as a way to increase their status, he acknowledges that this is not all it will take to add to the cultural value placed on teachers in various contexts. [4]

A rather interesting case for examining this distinction is that of China.  Out of 21 countries surveyed, China was the only country in which people saw teachers as having equal status as doctors, in contrast to less than 5% feeling this way in the UK. [4] Further, while 50% of parents in China would encourage their children to become teachers, a mere 8% of parents in Israel would do so, with very similar numbers in Brazil, Japan, and Portugal. [4] While those conducting this study recognized many elements that could be included under the umbrella of “teacher status”, they utilized four such elements to create an index score that ranked countries on a scale of 1 (low status) to 100 (high status): ranking status for primary teachers, secondary teachers and head teachers against other key professions; analyzing the aspiration of teaching as a ‘sought’ profession; creating a contextual understanding of teachers’ social status; and examining views on pupil respect for teachers. [4]

China received an index score of 100 and more respondents were likely to believe that students respect their teachers.  Conversely, in most European countries surveyed, a majority of participants felt that more students disrespect their teachers than respect them. [4] Ultimately, there was no conclusive correlation between this index score and student outcomes in each country, but the authors still stress that there is considerable variation in the ways that teachers are viewed in societies across cultures and considering the implications this may have for teaching and learning, these dynamics should continue to be explored more closely. [4]

Returning full circle to the teacher strikes in Iceland, and the demands for compensation comparable to other university graduates in the public sector, there are some important questions to consider.  Does the status afforded to teachers through monetary compensation behave differently in societies, and have different effects on student outcomes, than status measured by teacher respect and the ranking of the teaching profession as a whole as compared to other professions in a certain country?  Is the external motivation of a higher salary enough to get the best of younger generations out of universities and into classrooms teaching children rather than moving into careers as doctors, lawyers, or engineers? Could this be incentive enough to defeminize the teaching profession and attract a more balance demographic of teachers at all levels? Further, what does it mean for a student’s learning that they respect their teachers?  On one hand this could mean that the student finds it worthwhile to pay attention and listen to what their teacher has prepared each day, to do their homework and study, and to put forth a certain amount of effort in class.  In other contexts, this may mean that a student respects the teacher as an absolute authority and subsequently might feel that it is inappropriate to ask questions to their teacher or raise their hand in class.  These two scenarios will likely have very different impacts on a child’s learning overall.

A final thought is that regarding the way in which teaching and status is increasingly tied to ever-greater levels of credentials, as evidenced in the case of Iceland, and the impact this has on both teacher’s wages as well as the profession as a whole.  I have heard more than one friend of mine in the United States comment on the fact that in many states, especially if you are an early childhood educator, having a masters degree would most likely be a huge barrier to getting a teaching job because you are “overqualified” and schools are unable or unwilling to compensate you at the appropriate monetary level.  What message are we sending our teachers about the value of their work if we are unwilling to compensate them for their hard work and time they are putting into teaching our youth, especially when movie stars and professional athletes are easily rewarded by our society for the entertainment they provide.  Beyond this, by requiring ever increasing levels of credentials are we missing out on a population of enthusiastic, caring, and dedicated teachers of diverse backgrounds that may not be able to afford education to that level?  All of these questions impact the quality of education delivered as a whole both in the United States and in contexts all over the world, and undoubtedly must be explored in greater detail.


[1] http://icelandreview.com/news/2014/03/17/teachers-iceland-go-strike

[2] http://www.ei-ie.org/en/news/news_details/2950

[3] http://www.ei-ie.org/en/news/news_details/2934

[4] http://www.varkeygemsfoundation.org/sites/default/files/documents/2013GlobalTeacherStatusIndex.pdf

The popularity of Chinese-learning

This winter holiday, when I was in the airport waiting area of Beijing International Airport, an interesting scene caught my attention: three American children were running and singing a popular Chinese children’s song together, followed by a Chinese woman and their mother. It is easy to guess that the Chinese woman was a baby-sitter and family’s Chinese language teacher at the same time. I have also seen many videos before—like the one shown here, which show American girls speaking Chinese, usually taught by their family’ Chinese language teacher. These are two good examples perhaps suggesting that learning of Chinese language becoming more and more popular outside of China. Usually, parents choose to start with their children who would learn the language easier and faster.

On January 31st, we celebrated the Chinese New Year—the most important festival of China. A Chinese homeschooling organization held an event to help children and parents celebrate the festival together. Children were asked to construct a simple lantern—which is similar with the Chinese traditional decoration with their parents’ help. This kind of Chinese cultural event could help children understand Chinese culture easily and also could leave children a strong impression for Chinese traditional festivals. [1]



As the learning of Chinese language becomes more popular in countries where it is not spoken, more information becomes available online about how to effectively teach Chinese to children. On blog with a title “Chinese dubbed movies will be a great tool for learning Chinese” was published on the BetterChinese blogs, arguing that when children are watching their favorite and familiar movies such as Finding Nemo or Toy Story, they don’t care which language the movie is in, even if these movies are played in Mandarin. Although not backed up by any scientific evidence, the blog suggests that this may be an effective way to help children learn Chinese, because it is easy for children to understand movies and they feel accomplished as a result.[2]

Telling Chinese stories is another tool to teach Chinese, which also helps children learn about Chinese traditional culture. For example, the Mid-Autumn Festival is a holiday to commemorate Chang’e, a fictional beautiful woman who left her husband and had to stay on the moon. The story reminds people to reunite and care more about their families. The Dragon Boat Festival is a Chinese traditional festival to commemorate Quyuan who was a great person with high reputation in the history. People throw zongzi into the river where Quyuan committed a suicide to feed fish in order to prevent fish eating Quyuan’s body, and this is the reason why people eat zongzi during Dragon Boat Festival. Those stories give meaning to Chinese festivals and raise people’s interest in learning about the Chinese culture.



The examples illustrate that the process of learning the Chinese language is also a process of for people to learn the Chinese culture. As English becomes the domaint international language and is used increasingly more widely in recent years, more and more Chinese begin to learn English and Chinese parents focus more on their children’s English scores instead of Chinese scores. However, few Chinese people realize that when Chinese parents try to improve their children’s English skills, people from other countries are beginning to learn Chinese.

With the effects of globalization, China plays a more important role than ever before in the world, and people begin to pay attention to China and the Chinese culture. In other words, the popularity of Chinese learning could be seen as a sign that the Chinese culture is becoming widely accepted. Years ago, the Chinese government has begun to support the spread of Chinese traditional culture, and now there are 440 Confucius Institutes established in 120 countries. In the United States, there are 100 Confucius Institutes in universities and 356 Confucius classrooms in schools, including elementary schools and high schools. Personally, I think these Confucius Institutes build bridges between Chinese and people from other countries, providing good opportunities for people to understand Chinese well and also promoting interpersonal relationship between different groups of people. As a Chinese, I feel proud that Chinese culture is recognized and valued by people from other countries.

Cleaning Up Tunisian Education

Cross-posted from Open Society Voices

The way we address corruption in education matters. Strategies that focus on monitoring or punishing specific instances of corruption are too often politically motivated and fail to address the root causes of corruption. If our goal is to fix the transparency gaps, perverse incentives, and contradictory or confusing regulations that lead to corruption, then we must take a systematic approach to monitoring corruption.

This spring the government of Tunisia asked the OECD to conduct a preliminary integrity scan of their education system as part of a bigger effort in the context of the OECD CleanGovBiz ini­tiative. The resulting report, Integrity of Public Education in Tunisia [PDF], identifies areas in the education system that might benefit from a more in-depth assessment or immediate policy responses.

An OECD assessment team visited Tunisia in May 2013. Using the Integrity of Education Systems research framework, which was developed and piloted in Serbia in 2012 with support from the Open Society Education Support Program, we assessed four dimensions of integrity: access to education, quality of education, sound management of staff and resources, and capacity for corruption detection and prosecution.

Public schools in Tunisia are having trouble providing quality education despite large investments in education and teacher salaries, according to international assessments and data on grade repetition. This, in turn, nurtures distrust in schools’ ability to fulfill their mission and fuels a need for and widespread acceptance of private tutoring. Tunisia reports the world’s 9th highest rate of private tutoring with up to 70 percent of Tunisian students participating, according to data from the Program for International Student Assessment in 2006.

The same assessment found that up to 54 percent of students were offered tutoring by their own classroom teachers—a serious integrity threat. In many cases, important parts of the curriculum are available only to students who can pay for private lessons.

Lack of school and teacher accountability perpetuates ineffective learning. In turn, these problems become more widespread, making it even more difficult for authorities to understand the extent of the corruption.

Integrity challenges confront universities as well. Tertiary enrollment in Tunisia continues to boom, but the admissions process fails to recruit qualified students or to ensure their field of study coincides with their choice and interests. This turns the focus of higher education from learning to obtaining a degree to fulfill bureaucratic requirements for future employment. It encourages cheating among students, paying teaching staff for grades, and similar abuses of academic ethics. The absence of integrity standards and adequate accreditation and evaluation mechanisms further promotes tolerance for malpractice which, according to the OECD, is widespread in the higher educa­tion system.

“Education reforms and integrity interventions should be aimed at the restoration of trust in the public education system of Tunisia, a system with great potential which Tunisians were once rightly proud of,” Mihaylo Milovanovitch, leader of the OECD assessment team, writes in the report.  

Other countries are confronting the challenges discussed in this scan as well. Tunisia might be in a favorable position to set a good example in deal­ing with them. It is one of the very few countries that have opened themselves up to an external integrity analysis of the public sector and of education in particular. This is an important step in taking informed decisions regarding the course of action against corruption,” says Mihaylo Milovanovitch, part of the OECD research team.

Understanding, prevention, and participation are the best ways to combat corruption in education. Specific recommendations include reforming the university admissions process, introducing a code of professional conduct for teachers, and improving the school inspection system. Furthermore, rather than taking a technocratic approach to change, it is important to engage students, parents, teachers, and the general public to make sure that reform becomes part of the fabric of the education and daily life.


A Talk with Jane Ervin: CEO of One of the Most Successful Head Start Programs in the US


I recently sat down to talk with Jane Ervin, the current CEO of Lehigh Valley’s Community Services for Children. They currently host the Head Start program in the area, one of the top 40 in the country. When Jane started with the NGO in 2007, the poverty rate for children in the Lehigh Valley was 20%. It has risen to 26% in just a few short years, and contributed to the shrinking economy.

The program itself, as most other charitable programs and organizations, is under heavy scrutiny by the government. Each Head Start program is reviewed every three years. If it does not meet the standards, the NGO will be forced to recompete for the money allotted to the program in their area. Their money will be taken away and US$5 million will be given to the NGO that wants to start the Head Start program in that community. According to Jane, there are training centers throughout the US that can provide assistance to the faltering programs, focusing on Early Head Start, Program Management, Community Engagement, and other areas. Jane and I did not get into detail on the effectiveness of these centers. Perhaps that is a conversation to be had later.

Jane’s ideal path for the increased investment in early childhood education lies with businesses. She first discussed the history of Bethlehem, the transforming culture and increased need for specialized employees. When Bethlehem Steel was in operation, only a high school degree was needed to ensure a living wage and the ability to send children to college. The Steel plant closed and jobs have become much more technical. Now there is an adjustment period, a similar scenario to other areas across the US.


As noted in my previous blog on the Head Start Program, research tells of the tremendous value of early childhood education. Yet, we have to question why there is little investment in it. Businesses are focusing on the technical training required to fulfill their positions. Fewer and fewer are able to meet the requirements to begin this type of technical training and the jobs are either being sent to other countries or employees from overseas are coming to the US to do jobs we can’t. Jane proposes the more efficient solution of growing our own labor force. Her goal is to help businesses see the connection between early childhood education and the employees that will need to be hired in 15 or 20 years. She advocates for tailoring the education to meet the specific needs of a particular community and the businesses within that community.

While this may be beneficial for the businesses and the economy of that particular area, where is the choice for children and their families? Where is the equal playing field? If students are prepared for a specific job from a young age, what other choice will they have? What if they decide that isn’t where they want to be?

It’s an interesting debate I think, one we can look at cross-culturally. Universities within the US are filled with students studying in unpractical fields with no clue what to do after graduation. In a way, a great deal of our youth is lost because they are given too much freedom. In a country where you can “be whatever you want to be,” how do you decide? In China, social roles and college majors are chosen for the youth and futures are clearly defined. Are the Chinese finding more satisfaction out of life just because they feel they are fulfilling their predetermined niche in society?

As Head Start prides itself as a high quality childcare program, Jane is naturally an advocate for all children to have this available to them. In addition to suggesting the businesses invest long-term in their future employees, she also suggests these local businesses encourage their employees to seek out high-quality childcare for their children. Day cares and babysitters are not always enough. Parents are unable to identify and seek out high quality childcare and may be unaware of the long-term benefits. Perhaps she sees the connection between an understanding of the benefits of high-quality childcare and the willingness to invest in it. Her forerunner in the evaluation of a childcare program is Keystone S.T.A.R.S.. They rank the programs on a 1-4 star scale. As the S.T.A.R.S. scale has the potential to make a childcare program more marketable to families, there are no direct repercussions to the program for not being evaluated.

On the local level, Jane’s ideas have potential. For businesses to succeed, they need quality employees. What then is the role of the government? Should it not be ensuring children’s education reach the level needed to partake in the student’s choice of training, vocational or higher education programs? Is the goal of this nation to make money through the success of their businesses and economy is the goal for everyone to have the equal opportunity to find their own success?

Threat to the American Dream? Colleges are failing to recruit low-income students


With high school seniors looking to make important decisions regarding their college choices in the upcoming weeks, a fascinating study has emerged analyzing the effects of socio-economic status on college acceptance and performance rates. The numbers are staggering; 34% of high achieving low-income students make it into any of the U.S’s 238 most selective schools, while that figure is 74% for top students in the highest income bracket. While the racial gap is large but has been decreasing over the past two decades, what’s interesting is that income gaps continue to increase. It has become apparent that colleges are failing to admit or even reach out to applicants of more diverse backgrounds, not only racially but also socio-economically.

A comprehensive study by Caroline Hoxby and Christopher Avery reveals that 69% of those high achieving low-income students are white. It’s unfortunate that poor and white doesn’t count as “diverse” enough for Ivy League schools, especially in an environment like Harvard where:

“Approximately 45.6 percent of Harvard undergraduates come from families with incomes above $200,000, placing them in the top 3.8 percent of American households. Even more shockingly, only about 4 percent of Harvard undergraduates come from the bottom quintile of U.S. incomes and a mere 17.8 percent come from the bottom three quintiles of U.S. incomes.” (Crimson, 2013)

Perhaps universities aren’t as diverse as they are claiming to be, rather, they are defining diversity simply in terms of ethnicity and race instead of taking a holistic approach and creating opportunities for bright but under-privileged students and really making a difference in the power of social mobility. According to researchers Martha Bailey and Susan Dynarski, 30 years ago there was a 31% point difference between rich and poor Americans with bachelors degrees. Today that gap has risen to 45 points.

One might blame the gap on the inability of lower-income students to thrive in a competitive college environment with a diverse population, suggesting that perhaps they would do better at a local community college. However, the study found that 89% of these students who went to selective schools graduated, whereas only 50% of them graduated from non-selective schools.

Students already living in bad neighborhoods who attend under-performing schools will not have the same information or access to well informed guidance counselors or teachers who can help them make decisions regarding their future. The finest college guidance counselors are recruited to work at schools with the highest masses of high-achievers, and for those few high-achieving students living in rural areas, it is unlikely that admissions staff will come to visit each and every school across America. (Hoxby)

If uninformed guidance counselors and visits from admissions staff at colleges isn’t the most effective way of reaching high-achieving low income students, then what is? Whose responsibility is it to reach out to this portion of “America’s future”? Should colleges let them continue to slide through the cracks or finally own up to their claims of diversity in all regards by allocating funds toward recruiting students from a wider socio-economic backgrounds?

Hoxby and Avery created the Expanding College Opportunities Project (ECO-C), which “combines semi-customized information and low-paperwork fee waivers on students’ application, admissions, and enrollment.” This low-cost (only $6 per student!) form of outreach proved to cause students to submit 19 percent more applications and to be 27 percent more likely to submit at least five applications”. The ECO-C intervention had its greatest effects on high achieving low-income students.

A project like this shows how momentous and useful different forms of outreach can be. If this were applied across the country, tens of thousands more students would have the guidance necessary to make more informed decisions about attending college. If all higher education institutions distributed something similar to ECO-C, perhaps it would aid in making the entire country more prosperous.

Lehigh University

Lehigh is a premier residential research university, ranked in the top tier of national research universities each year. We are a coeducational, nondenominational, private university that offers a distinct academic environment of undergraduate and graduate students from across the globe.

Our university offers majors and programs in four colleges: The College of Arts and Sciences, The College of Business and Economics, The College of Education and The P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science.

More than 4,700 undergraduate and 2,000 graduate students call Lehigh “home.” Located in Pennsylvania’s scenic Lehigh Valley, the campus is in close proximity to both New York City and Philadelphia. Lehigh is comprised of 2,358 acres, making it one of the largest private universities in the country. The Asa Packer Campus, Mountaintop Campus, and Murray H. Goodman Campus are contiguous. In 2012, the university received a Stabler Foundation gift of 755 acres in nearby Upper Saucon Township.

Since 1865, generations of students have chosen Lehigh for their educational experience. They know Lehigh is a place where they can make strong personal connections with faculty, conduct research in diverse fields of study, thrive in a dynamic campus community, form lasting bonds with Lehigh alumni, and learn from their own life experiences.

Information is taken from: http://www4.lehigh.edu/about/default.aspx