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everyone has an opinion on what is wrong with education in America and how it can be fixed

Educational reform is a topic of much debate in American society. Whether you are watching a political debate, browsing the headlines of CNN, or at a dinner party with friends, everyone has an opinion on what is wrong with education in America and how it can be fixed.

There are some that argue longer school days will help, although countries with higher performing students actually spend less time in the classroom than American students. There is also a growing belief, especially in many urban inner cities, that charter schools are a better alternative. While some charter schools perform, misappropriated funds, inadequately prepared teachers, and underdeveloped curriculum plague many others ( There is also a great body of research that argues a parent’s income and education level is the biggest predictor of a child’s success in school. In turn, this may spawn the notion that for some children, their own success is tied to forces beyond their control. For these students with a lower SES, it is a constant uphill battle with little to no resources that can help them along the way. However, that must change.

One issue that is quietly (and perhaps not by accident) overlooked is teacher quality and preparedness. Teacher preparedness not only helps the students, but also deals with the issue of quality teachers leaving the field due to burn out.

A study conducted by the Consortium for Policy Research in Education did a comparative analysis of Teacher Quality and Preparedness of six nations – USA, Thailand, Singapore, Japan, Korea, and Hong Kong. Test data was used from 2003 to compare math and science scores between the many different nations, with the conclusion that all five of the Asian nations scored higher than the US in Math and Science. However, it is important to note the US scored higher than Hong Kong and Japan in Reading literacy.

It also important to note that there is no significant difference in instructional hours required between the US and the Asian countries compared. The US already requires more instructional hours than Japan and almost half of the states in the US require more instructional hours than Korea.

While shifting through the data, there are many things that stand out. For one, teaching in the Asian countries on average is held in higher esteem than teaching in the US. For example, in Hong Kong, being a teacher is considered a higher status profession that being an account, doctor, or scientist. In the US, becoming a teacher can be viewed as a no man’s land for recent grads that haven’t figured out what they want to do yet. It’s well below becoming a doctor or lawyer, but it’s better than being a cop or a fireman.

Related: The Useless Debate of School vs. Education

Ironically enough, policemen and firemen go through a more strenuous background check and face stricter requirements for their fields when compared to teachers. There is also the notion that joining programs like Teach for America is the domestic version of the peace corp: manning the trenches in an inner-city school to beef up the resumé in advance of an application to one’s real field of choice. Or better yet, it’s for people who just like to have their summers off. Also, compared to the other countries, the qualification bar for teaching in the US is set relatively low. In Hong Kong, the top third of college grads are selected for the teaching profession, while in the US teachers are average or below average compared with other college graduates.

The latter portion of the report focused on each nation in isolation. In the US, there was data that compared teacher preparedness and quality alongside factors such as school setting (i.e. rural, suburban, urban) and poverty level of the school (high and low).

In every category there was a significant difference between low and high poverty level schools. When it comes to teachers being mis-assigned (teaching in a field they don’t have a degree in), whether or not teachers are certified, or whether or not they have a degree at all, 10% of teachers in high poverty schools are not fully certified. Half of the math teachers in high poverty schools don’t have a major or minor that even pertains to math. There is also a significantly large gap between middle school grades and high school grades when looking at teacher quality and preparedness. This means that students are not receiving the proper foundation as they move on to higher grades. By then, some students have become jaded to the idea of school and have all but given up.

The discrepancy between teacher quality and preparedness is significant amongst high and low poverty schools. While we cannot change the SES level or income of a student’s family, we can change the quality of teacher that those students get. If anything, high poverty level students should be getting the best of what we have to offer, not the worst.

Related: Education 2012-2013