Now, the next high profile education survey has come our way. What should we do with this one? The recently released “Global Teacher Status Index” (2013) by Varkey GEMS Foundation aims to measure and compare the “level of respect for teachers and their social standing.” Questions on the survey include the comparative ranking of teachers against other professions, the amount that the public thinks teachers should be paid, the degree of trust that teachers can deliver a quality education and if a parent would want their child to be a teacher. Surveyed in 21 countries, this blender mix is supposed to tell us something.
What we find is that in China, teachers are considered equal in status to doctors. China is number one, followed by Greece, Turkey and South Korea. Finland, so famous for their high level of teachers, comes in a distant 13th. Germany is 16th and Japan ranks 17th. The immediate response is to wonder what we should do with these numbers other than just award medals. It’s a loose assumption if we think these rankings are related to student achievement and motivated by salaries. It sounds good, but it’s probably not true.
Peter Dolton and Oscar Marcanero-Gutierrez, two economics professors at the University of London and the University of Malga make this very claim, basing their findings on data from OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) and PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment).
They say that a 10% increase in pay increases PISA scores by 5-10% because higher pay attracts new teachers and improves the status of teachers.
This is kind of true since the Varkey GEMS survey determines that the average of the 5 countries with the highest wages rank at 6.2 in PISA scores while the average of the 5 countries with the lowest earnings rank at 13.4. Considering the wealth of South Korea, Singapore, US, Japan and Germany, this should come as no surprise. Isn’t this more about the wealth available for educational infrastructure rather than simply the salaries of teachers?
The pay/performance correlation does not apply in the case of Chinese teachers since they are the second lowest paid even after PPP adjustments. Despite their small salaries, they produce the third highest PISA scores. We might think there’s a relationship between China’s high respect and high PISA scores, but Greece and Turkey quickly dispel this hope. Respectively silver and bronze in teacher status, they rank a distant 17th and 19th in achievement scores.
The PISA gold, silver and bronze go respectively to Singapore, Finland and China. For teacher status, China is awarded 100, Singapore 46 and Finland a disrespectfully low 28. Pay also is all over the charts even after PPP adjustments with China $17,730, Singapore $45,755 and Finland $28,780. We have failed at any attempt to triangulate status, pay and performance.
This might be because of the ill-defined index of “teacher status.” What if we use “power distance,” one of the four indices in Hofstede’s landmark study on cultural value dimensions? Power distance measures the degree that less powerful people accept the unequal distribution of social power and status and can be applied to what we could call respectful and deferential behavior toward teachers.
Looking at the numbers again, there is a definite correlation between the Varkey GEMS survey on teacher status and Hofstede’s mapping of power distance. Comparing teacher status with power distance, we have; China 100/80, Singapore 46.3/74 and Finland 28.9 / 33. Most of the other countries in the survey follow this pattern. Defining “status” and “respect” as a power relationship explains better why China and Finland, on the opposite extremes of this spectrum, can both deliver results. It explains why unquestioning obeisance wins good grades in one system while critical questioning wins points in another. The vertical structure of a Confucian society has always produced top scholars. In contrast, progressive and egalitarian societies are created through progressive and egalitarian schools.
There is a danger in conducting too many award ceremonies for the international gold, silver and bronze, especially when we might be comparing apples and oranges. At the end of the day, let’s think what these surveys really say.