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Teacher status around the world: how the US stacks up

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That’s telling, says Mr. Carroll, because it means that the US public sees “the core role of teachers as providing students access to content,” which for so long has been measured by multiple-choice tests, while “the countries that say it’s like social work [are saying] teachers need to collaborate with students, support their personal and emotional growth, and work in teams.”

That latter approach is key to the success of many top-performing countries, Carroll and other education experts say, and it’s a shift that has more potential than ever to occur in the US as schools start to implement Common Core State Standards, which demand that students not just learn facts and figuring, but also how to apply knowledge and solve problems.

To the degree that state policymakers realize that potential of the Common Core, Carroll says, it will put “students in a tremendous position in a globally competitive economy.” 

Top-performing countries all do several things the US could emulate better, says Betsy Brown Ruzzi, who focuses on international benchmarking as vice president of the National Center on Education and the Economy in Washington. “They recruit teachers at a minimum from the top third of the achievement cohort…. They also pay them well…. And when they enter teaching, they are treated like professionals,” she says.

Yet high status and high salaries don’t always correlate, this new report shows.

Adjusting salaries relative to the cost of living so that countries can be compared, the report shows that Egypt, ranking sixth on the status index, has an average teacher salary of just $10,604 a year. In Israel, which ranks last, teachers make $32,447.

“In many countries, a teacher is a civil servant,” where the salary might be low but where other factors, such as respect and stability, come into play, says the index report’s co-author Oscar Marcenaro-Gutierrez, a professor of applied economics at the University of Malaga in Spain.

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