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Reading Between The Lines
What The World Really Thinks of Teachers
In this report we introduced and examined three different definitions and measures of teacher status. These measures were based on:
- Ranked Teacher Status: How people ranked teachers relative to other occupations in terms of respect;
- Implicit Teacher Status: How people responded to quick-fire word association tests assessing implicit perceptions of teachers; and
- Explicit Teacher Status: How people responded to a series of explicit questions concerning teachers’ attributes and working conditions (including their level of training, overall quality and professional judgement).
We found that, although these measures were related, and all in some sense captured “teacher status”, they were nevertheless quite distinct. Implicit and explicit perceptions of teachers were highly correlated, but both were less strongly correlated with the ranking measure. Given the content of the implicit word associations and explicit questions, it seems likely that these two measures offer an insight into respondents’ evaluations of teacher attributes – particularly teacher quality.
There is a clear relationship between teacher status and student outcomes as measured by PISA scores.
By contrast, the ranking measure more directly assesses respondents’ instinctive sense for how much respect or prestige is accorded to teachers in their country. It is apparent from these results that respondents are fully able to separate their perceptions of how much teachers are respected by society in general from their own attitudes towards teachers (and particularly their sense of teacher quality). We should note here that, although our Implicit and Explicit Teacher Status Measures were highly correlated, they were far from perfectly so. This suggests that, despite their overlap in content, these measures are offering two different windows into people’s perceptions of teachers. This distinction is important for our analysis of the relationship between teacher status and student attainment, as we describe below.
In our previous reports (in 2013 and 2018), we observed a clear relationship between teacher status (as measured by our principal measure of teacher status, the GTSI 2018) and student outcomes as measured by PISA scores. In this report, we are able to re-affirm this finding with the newly released 2018 PISA data. This is a particularly important result as it demonstrates that the relationship between teacher status and student attainment is robust across entirely separate datasets collected from a different cohort in each country five years apart and surveyed over many more countries. This substantially increases the likelihood that this result reflects a genuine relationship between teacher status and student attainment at the national level.
In this report, we explored the relationship between teacher status and student attainment by examining it using our three alternative measures of teacher status separately. We found a substantial link between the ranking measure and PISA scores, echoing our finding with the overall GTSI 2018 measure. However, we found an even more striking correlation between our implicit measure of teacher status and PISA scores. This analysis showed that almost a third (31%) of the variation in PISA scores between countries could be explained by this measure alone. This association (and the association between the ranking measure and PISA scores) was robust to controlling for actual teacher wages in each country (at purchasing power parity). This suggests that, alongside teacher pay, teacher status is a crucial determinant of student attainment.
Almost a third of the variation in PISA scores between countries could be explained by Implicit Teacher Status – by people’s implicitly held views about teachers.
In contrast with the implicit and ranking measures, our explicit measure of teacher status was not a substantive predictor of PISA scores. This difference between the measures suggests that people’s explicit evaluations of (for example) teacher quality are less relevant for student outcomes than their implicit perceptions of teachers and of the prestige that teaching attracts. This is surprising as one might expect explicit, considered evaluations to play a stronger role than “gut instinct” unconsidered perceptions. However, considered opinions are more strongly vulnerable to reporting bias than unconsidered, automatic responses. Our unconsidered measures may therefore offer a truer picture of people’s instinctive perception of teachers and teaching, and it is this perception that is more strongly representative of how teachers are actually treated in the societies we analyse.
Given the apparent importance of teacher status for student attainment, we also focused in this report on predictors of teacher status. What factors explain why teachers enjoy substantially higher status in some countries than others? We found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that teachers enjoyed higher status in richer countries (as measured by GDP per capita) and in countries in which the government spent a higher fraction of its budget on education. However, we also found that teachers were held in lower esteem in countries where the teaching workforce was more strongly dominated by women. This is a dispiriting finding that suggests a level of possible gender stereotyping or societal sexism that may damage teacher status in countries where the profession is more female dominated. This is in line with previous research suggesting that the status and pay of occupations tends to drop as they become more female dominated (Levanon, England and Allison, 2009). In terms of educational policy indicators which have been suggested to increase or decrease teacher status, we found that teacher status was related neither to the extent to which schools are run by the private sector, nor to the extent to which the education system is geared towards vocational training as opposed to academics.
Geographically and culturally proximate countries tend to score similarly on teacher status in a way that does not appear to be explained by other background factors.
It should be noted that the fact that teachers enjoy higher status in richer countries which spend more on education offers a potential alternative explanation for the link we observe between teacher status and PISA scores. For example, it is possible that countries in which teachers are accorded high status do well on PISA scores not because the status of teachers is higher but because they are richer and therefore can invest more personal and public resources in increasing attainment. However, our analysis shows that the relationship between government education spending (as a proportion of total spending) and PISA scores is in fact negative, and that the relationship between teacher status and PISA scores is robust to accounting for GDP.
Although national wealth, education spending, and the gender composition of the teaching profession may be important in explaining national differences in teacher status, our analysis also suggests that cultural differences may also play a crucial role. Geographically and culturally proximate countries tend to score similarly on teacher status in a way that does not appear to be explained by other background factors. Our analysis of cultural correlates of teacher status provides little evidence that high teacher status is part of a cluster of other non-education related values (such as individualism). However, we were unable to examine the relationship between teacher status and other attitudes relating to education.
Previous research (for example, Merriman and Nicoletti, 2007; Pelham, Crabtree and Nyiri, 2009) has argued for cultural differences in the intrinsic value placed on education. For example, this may include the extent to which “doing well in school” – i.e. high educational attainment – is considered an important goal for children and young people. It seems highly likely that this – the cultural value placed on education – may be an important predictor of the status of teachers. However, to our knowledge, there are no international survey data that provide information on the value of education across different cultures. Future survey research on this topic would be highly valuable.
In summary, this report has shown that:
- There are large differences in the status of teachers between countries.
- The global concept of “teacher status” can be decomposed and measured in different ways.
- The distinction between these ways of capturing teacher status has important implications for the relationship between teacher status and student attainment.
- Measures which tap into people’s unconsidered, automatic perceptions of teachers may be more genuinely reflective of the way in which teachers are treated in society – with this treatment being the most crucial for student outcomes.
- A country’s student attainment (as measured by PISA scores) is strongly related to the status of teachers (in particular when measured implicitly), and that this relationship is not explained by differences in national wealth or actual teacher pay. A clear corollary here is that a greater focus should be placed on raising the status of teachers across the world.
- That teacher status is related to national wealth, education spending, and the gender composition of the teaching workforce, but is not directly related to clear policy differences such as the role of the private sector in providing education or the extent to which the education system is geared towards vocational programmes.
- That teacher status is likely to be partly culturally determined, although it remains an open question as to whether high teacher status is part of a broader set of attitudes relating to the intrinsic value of education.