Category Archives: teacher quality

Mysteries of Education

With comps looming in about ten days, I’m buckling down for the final study frenzy.  I started with reviewing my policy class.  A recent article in Education Week by Odden and Picus discussed the idea of school finance adequacy.  Their argument is that we actually know quite a bit about factors that are positively correlated with student achievement so rather than simply throwing money at schools, we should tie it to these different factor.  They include such things as class size (small is better), school size (smaller is better although the definition of small ranges from 300 to 1000 in high schools) early childhood programs, family services, full day kindergarten, and more effective professional development practices that embed pro dev in the classroom.  Then, we come to teacher quality.  And, here’s where the mystery happens.

We know that teacher quality is, of all in-school interventions, most highly correlated with student achievement.  It matters more than all the above factors; it even matters more than which school kids attend.  But, according to a report developed for the School Finance Redesign Project, we can only attribute about 3% of the effect to quantifiable factors like years of experience or certification.  The other 97% are a mystery:

“Goldhaber (2002) estimates that only about 3 percent of the impact teachers have on student achievement can be attributed to measurable factors like teacher experience, certifications, and degree level. His analysis indicates that about 97% of this influence is statistically unexplainable and may be attributable to intangible qualities like enthusiasm, communication styles, or other factors. While numerous studies have shown these measurable qualities to be associated with improved student achievement, it is noteworthy that these factors only explain a small fraction of the total impact teachers have on student achievement.”

It’s these kinds of statements that keep me coming back to think about education.  It’s the day after Labor Day, and all over the country students and teachers are assembling in classrooms to engage in the tradition known as public education.  And, despite all the research, all the funding, we really don’t know why some teachers are more successful than others.

(NB: For all those schools that started last week, according to the School Finance Redesign Project, adding a few days to the school year doesn’t appear to have much effect on student achievement.)