MIAMI – Countries that outpace the U.S. in education employ many different strategies to help their students excel. They do, however, share one trait: They set high requirements to become a teacher, hold those who become one in high esteem and offer the instructors plenty of support.

On Wednesday and today, education leaders, including U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the nation’s largest teacher unions, and officials from the highest scoring countries, are meeting in New York to identify the best teaching practices.

The meeting comes after the recently released results of the Programme for International Student Assessment exam of 15-year-olds alarmed U.S. educators. Out of 34 countries, it ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math.

“On the one hand, the United States has a very expensive education system by international standards,” said Andreas Schleicher, who directs the exam. “On the other hand, it’s one of the systems where teachers get the lowest salaries.

“Then you ask yourself, how do you square those things?”

Schleicher co-authored a report released Wednesday in conjunction with the conference which concluded that for the U.S. to remain competitive, it must raise the status of the teaching profession. An additional report released by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, as well as the PISA exam, identified several effective practices observed in the top performing regions and countries:

They draw teachers from the same pool of applicants as those from other selective professional careers.

Aspiring teachers in Singapore, for example, are selected from the top one-third of secondary school graduating classes. They are given a monthly stipend while in schools and starting salaries are competitive with other professional jobs.

In Finland, there were 6,600 applicants for 660 openings in primary school preparation programs in 2010.

Higher teacher salaries — rather than smaller class sizes — were a better indicator of student performance.

At the same time, it wasn’t an exclusive means of attracting the best into the profession and must be accompanied by support from school leaders and a work environment that values professional judgment rather than formulas.

“They want to do knowledge work, not work in a prescriptive environment,” Schleicher said.

In the U.S., part of the reason why the standards to enter teaching are not higher stems from a significant variation among states for entry, licensure, training and development, noted Joseph Agueberre, president of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

“All of that variability is problematic,” Agueberre said. “It’s a little bit of luck of the draw what kind of teacher a child will get.”