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Teacher status around the world: how the US stacks up

The first-ever Global Teacher Status index finds significant disparities in how teachers are viewed. In China, teachers are as respected as doctors; in the US, they're more often compared with librarians.

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Fourth-grade teacher Alicia Schoenborn works with a student at Mahnomen Elementary School in Mahnomen, Minn., on Sept. 26. In China, about a third of those in a recent survey ranking the status of teachers said teachers could be compared with doctors. In the US, the most common comparison was with librarians.

Dan Koeck/Reuters

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Debate about how to keep up with countries that perform best on international tests has been percolating for years in the United States. Now there’s a new comparison to consider – one that ranks 21 countries on the status of teachers, a factor that experts say can influence the effectiveness of education.

China tops the first-ever Global Teacher Status Index, with Israel coming in last. The US ranks ninth – beating out No. 13 Finland, a country that often ranks high in comparisons of student performance.

The index is based on surveys comparing teaching to other professions and how much respect the public says teachers get from students. The report also includes the context of teacher pay, the degree to which parents encourage children to become teachers, and public opinion on pay-for-performance policies. The Varkey Gems Foundation, a London-based nonprofit devoted to improving education for disadvantaged students, released the index Wednesday evening.

In the US, “there is consensus that we need to not just improve the status but also the performance of the profession,” and the two go hand-in-hand, says Tom Carroll, president of the National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future, in Washington. An international comparison on teacher status is a valuable addition to the increasingly global dialogue about how best to do that, he says.

In China, about one-third of those surveyed said teachers could be compared with doctors. In two-thirds of the countries (including top-performers in student testing such as Singapore, South Korea, and Finland), the profession was most often compared with social work. In the US (along with Brazil, France, and Turkey), the most common comparison was to librarians.

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