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Posted: October 2, 2009

COLUMBIA, Mo. – According to a recent survey from the University of Missouri, American teachers work longer hours in the classroom, but are paid less and do less preparation outside of class. As a result, U.S. students are achieving less.

photoMotoko Akiba

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In her book “Improving Teacher Quality: The U.S. Teaching Force in Global Context,” MU Assistant Professor of Education Policy Motoko Akiba and her research partner, Gerald LeTendre, compared teacher qualification, working conditions, and professional learning opportunities of math teachers in the U.S., Japan and Australia. The researchers found that due to better support systems, teachers in Japan and Australia are outperforming their American peers, even though American teachers are working longer hours in the classroom.

Akiba believes the way to improve U.S. teachers’ quality is to overhaul the way teachers are recruited, trained, hired, distributed, supported and retained. She recommends developing policies and reforms that align the federal, state and local education administrations to systematically support teachers, leading to an improvement in their quality.

“We need to look at the systems of supporting teachers more holistically,” Akiba said.

The study also compared the number of qualified teachers in the classroom. Defining a qualified math teacher as a person who is certified, majored in mathematics or mathematics education and has three years of teaching experience, the study showed that only 63.7 percent of U.S. eighth grade math teachers are qualified compared to 68.7 percent in Australia and 83.5 percent in Japan.

Part of the difficulty with teacher quality is retaining new teachers in the field and attracting them to certain schools. According to Akiba, roughly half of new teachers leave the field within the first five years, creating a huge turnover in U.S. schools. While the starting salary rate for U.S. teachers is on par with the other two countries, the salary rate stalls over time, providing little incentive to stay.

U.S. schools in high poverty areas have a harder time attracting qualified teachers to their schools. Only 51.9 percent of teachers in high poverty schools are fully qualified; 23.1 percent less than in more affluent areas in the U.S. More qualified teachers have more incentive to teach at a school that offers them more, Akiba said. In Australia, special incentives are offered from the government to teachers willing to teach in less affluent, rural areas.

In Japan, teachers are hired at the state level, allocated to different schools and required to move to another school every six years within a defined geographic area in an effort to keep schools equal.

While Akiba said students are in the classroom for roughly the same amount of time each week in the three countries, the amount of time U.S. and Japanese teachers spend in the classroom and doing outside preparation differs. U.S. teachers spend an average of 4.8 hours more than their Japanese colleagues in the classroom, but spend 1.3 hours less outside of school on lesson planning each week. Akiba also said that Japanese teachers’ professional development at school and outside of school is well integrated into regular work schedules.

“Our study proved that developing a coherent policy to support teachers is not only what should be done, but also what must be done in the United States,” Akiba said.


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