Survey: Improve teaching experience to improve learning

By C. Brandon Chapman, College of Education

Adesope-80PULLMAN, Wash. – Student achievement has less to do with testing than with teaching, according to researchers from across the world, including Washington State University.

The Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) gives a striking view of the obstacles American teachers face – harder work under more challenging conditions – compared to the rest of the industrialized world. That includes deficits of supportive professional development, helpful feedback and time to collaborate on work.

But the survey also offered some solutions to the problems.

The data were collected from 34 countries under direction of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), headquartered in Paris. WSU and its College of Education’s Learning and Performance Research Center (LPRC) were the only U.S.-based groups to work on the survey (

“I am extremely pleased with the meaningful scholarship that was produced by the Learning and Performance Research Center faculty,” said LPRC director Brian French (

Five-year data collection reveals challenges

More than 100,000 middle school administrators and teachers responded to the survey, which began in 2008.

Among the data reported that paint a challenging picture of U.S. education:

* More than 30 percent of U.S. students come from economically disadvantaged homes – more than triple the average TALIS rate.
* Teachers have larger class sizes (27 pupils vs. the TALIS average of 24).
* Teachers spend more time on direct-instruction hours per week than any other country (27 hours vs. TALIS average of 19).
* Teachers work more total hours each week than their international colleagues (45 hours vs. TALIS average of 38), leaving less time for things like planning and professional development.

Ultimately, two-thirds of U.S. respondents said they feel teachers are not valued by society. At the same time, U.S. performance on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) declined in every subject area between 2000 and 2012 – years in which No Child Left Behind has been in effect (since 2002).

The decline and the U.S. survey results have caused the OECD to conclude that teachers, not testing, have more influence on student achievement.

“The release of this information will encourage conversations about critical issues related to the important work teachers do on an international scale,” French said. “This work moves us beyond the academic conversations and into the policy and practice spaces where attention is needed across the globe.”

Moving ahead to improve

TALIS offers some ideas for focusing attention on improving teaching – and thus learning – in the U.S.

Gotch, left, French and Austin.

“By studying how other countries succeed in supporting their teachers, we in the U.S. can hopefully gain more insight into how to do a better job supporting ours,” said Bruce Austin (
), a graduate student who worked extensively on the survey project.

These solutions include:

* Put resources toward the inequalities that weaken learning. Against countries that offer universal health care and early childhood education, the U.S. lags. It doesn’t put as many resources toward disadvantaged students. TALIS suggests legislation to change this.

* Collaborative school redesign. Teacher collaboration is a tenet of countries with better educational performance. However, time is money. TALIS points out that hiring more teachers, in order to give each teacher more collaboration time, costs money.

* Teacher evaluations that matter. In the U.S., the formal teacher evaluation process is based on classroom observation, feedback from students and parents, and test reviews – not too different from most other countries. However, most others give more emphasis to mentor teachers providing feedback, rather than busy principals.

* Value teaching. Sixty-seven percent of teachers in the U.S. say they don’t feel their profession is valued; but student achievement is much higher in countries where that percentage is even lower. Pay compensates for some of this lack of appreciation. According to the OECD, U.S. teachers earn 60 percent of what the average college graduate makes.

A collaborative effort


WSU’s work on the TALIS project was led by assistant professor Sola Adesope (

“The leadership shown by Dr. Adesope was first rate,” said French who, along with Chad Gotch, ( played a significant role.

“(And graduate student Bruce Austin) gained a tremendous amount of experience and respect from the OECD for his work on the statistical modeling of teacher outcomes,” French said. “This is exactly the type of experience and exposure we want for our students.”