Teacher quality research recap

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The latest teacher quality study has some teacher certification critics a tad worried that maybe that certification is good for something after all. In How and why do teacher credentials matter for student achievement?, researchers Charles Clotfelter, Helen Ladd, and Jacob Vigdor comb through ten years of elementary reading and math scores for children in North Carolina and manage to turn up a few surprises.

In addition to a host of other teacher credentials and characteristics, Clotfelter et al look at three different kinds of teacher licenses: regular certification, lateral certification (N.C.'s quasi-alternate certification route) and emergency (a.k.a. "any-warm- body-will-do"certification. Teachers coming in on emergency credentials for reasons such as not being able to pass a licensing test, not surprisingly, are clearly substandard. More interesting, of course, is the performance of the lateral entry teachers (who had to have a 2.5 GPA and a relevant major) compared to their more traditional counterparts.

To assess relative effectiveness, the researchers employ five separate models to analyze the data through various lenses. Under one of the five models, the elementary teachers teaching under a lateral entry license performed significantly worse when teaching math than did elementary teachers teaching under a regular license. The difference was not apparent in reading. There, lateral entry teachers outperformed their peers, though not significantly, under all five models.

What does any of it mean? Perhaps not much at all--or perhaps it means that teachers in North Carolina get better math training than those in other states. One thing is for sure: the single math finding will undoubtedly make its way into the debate over teacher certification. In doing so, it should also be interesting to see if certification advocates also mention the much more conclusive findings about those teachers who appear to do the poorest job of teaching math: men, particularly black men. A policy excluding men from teaching math is, shall we say, unlikely.

Other highlights from this study:

  • Yet another set of findings confirming that advanced degrees, despite their high price tag, carry no benefit whatsoever, and teachers holding them may actually be less effective.
  • Experience matters a lot. But for the most part, we're talking about a first-year teacher versus a third or fourth-year teacher. That's where the big jumps in teacher effectiveness happen.
  • Echoing Thomas Dee's groundbreaking study, matching teacher race with student race brings learning benefits.
  • Teacher test scores matter! They really, really do. So does the teacher having attended a more selective college.
  • And finally, Clotfelter et. al. find that teachers certified by the National Board do add some benefit. However, given that researchers were using the same dataset in the same time frame as Dan Goldhaber, who reported two years ago that National Board teachers did produce higher student achievement, the only thing this means is that Goldhaber did his math right.

    This week the CALDER center also brought more mixed news for NBPTS--sorely in need of some conclusive good news--with a large study of nearly 3,000 Board-certified teachers of grades 3 through 10 in Florida. Researchers Douglas Harris and Tim Sass find some positive impact from Board certification in reading, but not math, and in some grades, but not others. Particularly interesting, they find that earlier cohorts of Board-certified teachers are more effective than later cohorts, perhaps suggesting that the popularity of the program has had an impact on overall quality. And while Board-certified teachers are better before they apply, their superiority is no longer evident after they've earned the honor.

    The authors conclude: "The efficacy of NBPTS as a tool to improve student learning appears questionable."