Borrowing Teacher Preparation Ideas from Top-Performing Countries

Ben Jensen of the The National Center on Education and the Economy examines how the U.S. can improve teacher preparation by learning from Finland, Japan, Shanghai and Hong Kong and how these top-performing countries prepare teachers for the classroom.

These four systems arm teachers with a rich understanding of the subject areas they will teach and how their future students will learn that content. Jensen found that these countries provide four lessons for the U.S.:

  1. Raise selectivity standards for future educators. The report notes that this looks differently across the four systems. While Finland maintains very high admissions standards for entry to teacher preparation programs, Japan instead has the checkpoint at the end of training programs, requiring teachers to sit for a tough licensure exam.
  2. Require that elementary school teachers specialize in content areas. Most primary school teachers in the U.S. teach all subjects. In many top countries, teacher candidates specialize in either math and science or language and social studies.
  3. Focus on content knowledge. Trainee teachers in these countries study the content they will actually be teaching, say fourth grade fractions, not advanced college math. The idea is to give them a deep understanding not just of the content but also how students learn it.
  4. Create structured professional learning communities. Many top countries embrace career ladders where master teachers formally train teachers in their first few years in the classroom.

For the full report, see