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Teacher Labor Markets in Developed Countries

Helen Ladd takes a comparative look at policies that the world's industrialized countries are using to assure a supply of high-quality teachers. Her survey puts U.S. educational policies and practices into international perspective.

Ladd begins by examining teacher salaries—an obvious, but costly, policy tool. She finds, perhaps surprisingly, that students in countries with high teacher salaries do not in general perform better on international tests than those in countries with lower salaries. Ladd does find, however, that the share of underqualified teachers in a country is closely related to salary. In high-salary countries like Germany, Japan, and Korea, for example, only 4 percent of teachers are underqualified, as against more than 10 percent in the United States, where teacher salaries, Ladd notes, are low relative to those in other industrialized countries.

Teacher shortages also appear to stem from policies that make salaries uniform across academic subject areas and across geographic regions. Shortages are especially common in math and science, in large cities, and in rural areas. Among the policy strategies proposed to deal with such shortages is to pay teachers different salaries according to their subject area. Many countries are also experimenting with financial incentive packages, including bonuses and loans, for teachers in specific subjects or geographic areas.

Ladd notes that many developed countries are trying to attract teachers by providing alternative routes into teaching, often through special programs in traditional teacher training institutions and through adult education or distance learning programs. To reduce attrition among new teachers, many developed countries have also been using formal induction or mentoring programs as a way to improve new teachers' chances of success.

Ladd highlights the need to look beyond a single policy, such as higher salaries, in favor of broad packages that address teacher preparation and certification, working conditions, the challenges facing new teachers, and the distribution of teachers across geographic areas.