Beyond Teacher Quality



The Shanker Institute recently published commentary on the Beyond PD: Teacher Professional Learning in High-Performing Systems report from the Learning First Alliance and the International Center for Benchmarking in Education at the National Center for Education and the Economy. This blog covered that report here ( and here ( As a review, the paper describes practices and policies from four high-performing school systems – British Columbia, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Singapore – where professional learning is believed to be the primary vehicle for school improvement. An excerpt of the Shanker Institute commentary appears below:

In British Columbia, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore, teacher effectiveness is not something fixed that individual teachers do or don’t possess. Rather, effectiveness is both a quality and an aspiration of schools: Schools ought to be organized and resourced so that teachers continuously and collaboratively improve. In these high performance systems, the whole (school effectiveness) is greater than the sum of its parts (individual teacher effectiveness).

The report describes how these four high performing systems went about creating structures, processes, and norms to help teachers learn about how students learn – and how they did so systematically and systemwide through incremental reforms.

In British Columbia, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Singapore, all professional learning is developed around the following improvement cycle: 1) assess student learning to identify their next stage of learning; 2) develop teaching practices that provide for the next stage of student learning; and 3) evaluate the impact of the new practices on student learning so the teachers can refine their practice. As the report notes, none of this is new. “In isolation, [this improvement cycle] is insufficient for sustained reform. To make it effective requires a broad strategy with strong linkages between how leadership roles are structured, how resources are allocated, and the focus of evaluation and accountability measures.”

The report then examines three policy areas that support student-centered professional learning: 1) leadership; 2) evaluation and accountability; and 3) time.


Professional learning leaders are developed at the school- and system levels. These leaders receive training on “how to set professional learning targets, evaluate professional learning, and develop coaching and mentoring skills as well as strategic and administrative planning skills.” Learning leaders work closely with school principals and “spend a lot of time in schools in order to research and understand teacher strengths and weaknesses, identify areas for development, and design professional learning curriculum.”

Evaluation & Accountability

Evaluation and accountability are integral to the success of professional learning in schools. The reason for this is that accountability is not exclusively focused on student performance. When teacher learning is truly viewed through the growth (as opposed to the fixed) lens, through the social-organizational (as opposed to the individual) lens, and as the primary vehicle for student learning, then it’s not surprising that the system focuses on increasing the quality of the professional learning environment.


The lack of time is a well known barrier preventing effective professional learning. But, because time is a necessary though not sufficient condition, attempts to secure more time for professional learning have not always had the desired impact on students. Professional learning is effective “only when it becomes a normal part of daily work life in schools.” Accordingly, “separating professional learning from daily teaching routines is counterproductive, and limits the benefits for teachers and students alike.”

To reiterate, the key difference between these systems and the United States is that they don’t assume that teacher effectiveness is static, portable, individual and independent of the context. Conversely, teacher effectiveness is believed to grow within the school organization; thus, a primary goal is to build schools and school systems where this growth is continuous, collaborative, and where it responds to the changing and situated needs of students. As the report notes: “High-performing systems transform the improvement cycle into a culture of continuous professional learning that, in time, turns schools into true learning organizations.”  In a nutshell: Their ‘learning organization’ is our ‘teacher quality.’

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