Teachers are essential for the development of human capital in society. Their skills are formed in teacher training programs, but are also highly influenced by the type and overall quality of the students who enter these programs and become teachers. Understanding which segment of the population is part of the teacher corps is important in order to determine the focus of interventions which can improve the quality of teachers.
This paper compares the dispersions of literacy and numeracy skills of primary and secondary school teachers relative to those of other respondents. We use international data of 15 different countries from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) and the Adult Literacy and Lifeskills Survey (ALL), both conducted by the OECD. These data sets are representative samples of the adult population in various countries. They include reading and math test scores, and contain detailed information about occupations. For each country, we compare average math and literacy skills between teachers and other respondents, and we investigate differences at the 10th and 90th percentiles of the distributions.
In most countries, teachers outperform others in the bottom percentiles, while in some countries they perform better than others throughout the skill distribution. These results imply that the scope to improve teachers’ skills varies between countries and that policy makers should take the shape of the skills distribution into account when designing interventions in order to most efficiently raise teachers’ skills.