Learning From the Best Abroad

Type: Article
Topics: District & School Operations, School Administrator Magazine

October 02, 2023

By studying high-flying schools around the world, some district leaders in the U.S. are driving transformative changes to yield better results

“I’m a firm believer that every organization is perfectly designed to get the results that it’s getting, 100 percent of the time.”

That’s the perspective of Chad Shealy, the recently retired superintendent of the Vicksburg Warren School District in Mississippi. Under his leadership, Vicksburg Warren went from a district with a 50 percent graduation rate and a D grade on the state‘s school report card to a nearly 90 percent graduation rate and a B state rating within the span of eight years.

With a focus on building high-quality, career- and college-aligned, post-high school pathways for all students, the 7,200-student district changed its trajectory.

A culture of low expectations was also turned around, according to Shealy.

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Vicki Phillips


National Center of Education and the Economy, Washington, D.C.

When Addressing Teacher Shortages, One State Learns from Singapore

Singapore flag graphic pinned into world mapThe U.S. is facing what can only be described as a dire and worsening shortage of needed teachers, putting pressure on systems to lower teacher qualification standards. Yet clues for how to approach the problem over the long term may emerge from a look at Singapore and Finland as well as the work in Maryland.

High flyers, such as Singapore, do not lower their qualification standards for the profession when hiring newcomers. In fact, it’s just the opposite. The world’s high-performing education systems recruit and retain teachers from the ranks of top-performing secondary and postsecondary students, while also effectively mitigating potential teacher shortages.

Teacher salaries are benchmarked against those of similarly educated professions to ensure competitive pay. In Singapore and Finland, teaching is an attractive and respected profession.

Teacher education and induction programs equip early-career educators with the skills, abilities and cultural competencies to thrive. Once on the job, teachers work as professionals, with time allotted to continually improve their skills collaboratively with their colleagues.

In Singapore and other high-performing systems, teachers who want to advance are offered experiences to prepare them for more advanced positions, and advancement in their profession does not require leaving the classroom. As a result, Singapore and other high performers avoid the teacher shortages that are increasingly common across the U.S.

Keystone State Experiences

Seeing this disparity in teacher retention between the U.S. and other developed nations, many states and districts are looking to those successful practices and policies to bring long-term systemic solutions to this long-term systemic challenge. Data from the Pennsylvania Department of Education show that rural schools and schools with high proportions of students of color and those living in poverty face the greatest shortages.

Based on the examples of effective hiring in Singapore, leaders in the Keystone State and members of a newly formed coalition, We Need PA Teachers, have developed policies and five strategies to make teaching more attractive:

Incentivize high-quality teacher prep, characterized by rigorous coursework and intentionally designed clinical experiences developed in partnership with education agencies.

Invest in teacher retention through well-defined career ladders.

Expand pathways into teaching for youth and paraprofessionals.

Improve the financial proposition for becoming a teacher.

Improve data collection to allow for targeted investments in the teacher pipeline.

Vitally, Pennsylvania is not just copying and pasting its answers from Singapore and other countries. Instead, it is synthesizing the best practices of those systems and coupling it with a clear-eyed and in-depth understanding of its own landscape. Through that process, the state education agency and its partners are developing tailored solutions for its districts, schools and teachers, changing the trajectory of the profession in the state and the hardworking professionals who constitute it.

—  Vicki Phillips

Additional Resources

Vicki Phillips suggests these informational resources, including a video, all produced by the National Center on Education and the Economy, for those who want to adopt the best overseas thinking about schooling into their U.S. districts. They can be accessed at ncee.org.

"Beyond PD: Teacher Professional Learning in High-Performing Systems.” This report provides analysis and actions from teacher professional learning in Hong Kong, British Columbia, Shanghai and Singapore on redesigned learning.

"A Day in the Life of a Singaporean Teacher.” This 12-minute video provides a picture of the varied roles a teacher plays in a school in Singapore, including time spent collaborating with peers, mentoring other teachers and leading teaching and learning.

"Empowered Educators: How High-Performing Systems Shape Teaching Quality Around the World.” This series is the result of a study of seven high-performing systems and how they prepare, support and develop their teacher workforce.

"Global Models of Career Pathways.” This brief describes key features of leading career pathways systems, explains the policy context they operate in and how they are updating their systems to be better prepared.

"Leading High-Performance School Systems: Lessons from the World’s Best. This book draws lessons from leading overseas systems around how they ensure an abundant supply of teachers, redesign schools as professional workplaces and provide leadership training and opportunities for teachers.

"Poised for the Future: Transformative Teachers for Global Engagement, Sustainability and Digital Access.” The annual International Summit on the Teaching Profession brings together education ministers and union leaders from across the globe. The 2023 convening focused on three priority areas: elevating the teaching profession, educating for global and cultural competency and leveraging digital technology to ensure equitable and enhanced learning for all. This convening report includes examples of policy actions in each area.

"Top Performers Emerge from the Pandemic.” This brief looks at how top-performing systems managed an efficient transition to distance learning, responded quickly to opportunities and challenges that emerged during the pandemic and are looking ahead to prepare for future challenges.

"Views from Top Performers on the Future of Education.” This report captures conversations among the world’s highest performing education systems and global trends on the future of work and a civil society.