- Jessalynn James
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Novice teachers improve substantially in their first years on the job, but we know remarkably little about the nature of this skill development. Using data from Tennessee, we leverage a feature of the classroom observation protocol that asks school administrators to identify an item on which the teacher should focus their improvement efforts. This “area of refinement” overcomes a key measurement challenge endemic to inferring from classroom observation scores the development of specific teaching skills. We show that administrators disproportionately identify two teaching skills when observing novice teachers: classroom management and presenting content. Struggling with classroom management, in particular, is linked to high rates of novice teacher attrition. Among those who remain, we observe subsequent improvement in these skills.
We study the returns to experience in teaching, estimated using supervisor ratings from classroom observations. We describe the assumptions required to interpret changes in observation ratings over time as the causal effect of experience on performance. We compare two difference-in-differences strategies: the two-way fixed effects estimator common in the literature, and an alternative which avoids potential bias arising from effect heterogeneity. Using data from Tennessee and Washington, DC, we show empirical tests relevant to assessing the identifying assumptions and substantive threats—e.g., leniency bias, manipulation, changes in incentives or job assignments—and find our estimates are robust to several threats.
The distribution of teaching effectiveness across schools is fundamental to understanding how schools can address disparities in educational outcomes. Research and policy have recognized the importance of teaching effectiveness for decades. Five stylized facts predict that teachers should be differentially allocated across schools such that poor, Black and Hispanic students are taught by less qualified and less effective teachers. Yet, research is unclear whether these predictions have empirical support. Our purpose is to better understand whether there are meaningful differences in teacher effectiveness among schools. We find that poor, Black and Hispanic students are more likely to be taught by novice teachers when they live in more segregated MSAs. Moreover, the geographic nature of segregation varies across MSAs. Differentiating segregation within urban districts and segregation between urban districts and outlying districts in the same MSAs is essential to understanding poor students’ exposure to novice teachers and policies that address these disparities. We find that poor, Black and Hispanic students are 50 percent more likely to be exposed to at least one novice teacher during elementary school compared to their more affluent white peers. These results raise questions regarding the enforcement of ESSA’s requirements on the distribution of teacher qualifications and quality.
We explore the dynamics of competitive search in the K-12 public education sector. Using data from Boston Public Schools, we document how teacher labor supply varies substantially by position types, schools, and the timing of job postings. We find that early-posted positions are more likely to be filled and end up securing new hires that are better-qualified, more-effective, and more likely to remain at a school. In contrast, the number of applicants to a position is largely unassociated with hire quality, suggesting that schools may struggle to identify and select the best candidates even when there is a large pool of qualified applicants. Our findings point to substantial unrealized potential for improving teacher hiring.
Numerous high-profile efforts have sought to “turn around” low-performing schools. Evidence on the effectiveness of school turnarounds, however, is mixed, and research offers little guidance on which models are more likely to succeed. We present a mixed-methods case study of turnaround efforts led by the Blueprint Schools Network in three schools in Boston. Using a difference-in-differences framework, we find that Blueprint raised student achievement in ELA by at least a quarter of a standard deviation, with suggestive evidence of comparably large effects in math. We document qualitatively how differential impacts across the three Blueprint schools relate to contextual and implementation factors. In particular, Blueprint’s role as a turnaround partner (in two schools) versus school operator (in one school) shaped its ability to implement its model. As a partner, Blueprint provided expertise and guidance but had limited ability to fully implement its model. In its role as an operator, Blueprint had full authority to implement its turnaround model, but was also responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the school, a role for which it had limited prior experience.
Ten years ago, many policymakers viewed the reform of teacher evaluation as a highly promising mechanism to improve teacher effectiveness and student achievement. Recently, that enthusiasm has dimmed as the available evidence suggests the subsequent reforms had a mixed record of implementation and efficacy. Even in districts where there was evidence of efficacy, the early promise of teacher evaluation may not sustain as these systems mature and change. This study examines the evolving design of IMPACT, the teacher evaluation system in the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). We describe the recent changes to IMPACT which include higher performance standards for lower-performing teachers and a reduced emphasis on value-added test scores. Descriptive evidence on the dynamics of teacher retention and performance under this redesigned system indicate that lower-performing teachers are particularly likely to either leave or improve. Corresponding causal evidence similarly indicates that imminent dismissal threats for persistently low-performing teachers increased both teacher attrition and the performance of returning teachers. These findings suggest teacher evaluation can provide a sustained mechanism for improving the quality of teaching.
Few topics in education policy have received more attention than teacher turnover—and rightly so. The cost of losing a good teacher can be substantial and is born most directly by students. It is now widely recognized that teachers differ considerably in their ability to improve student outcomes, but discussions of teacher turnover rarely reflect these differences. Instead, we typically treat teacher turnover as uniformly negative. In this paper, we examine teacher turnover in the context of rigorous teacher evaluation to explore three questions. How does teacher turnover affect the quality of teaching and student achievement? How does teacher turnover vary by measured teaching effectiveness? And to what extent is the turnover of effective teachers associated with the evaluation system? We examine these questions employing data from the District of Columbia Public Schools. We find that in general turnover improves teacher quality and student achievement, but that this result masks large differences between teachers identified as more and less effective. Turnover among more effective teachers is relatively low, and when more-effective teachers exit, they infrequently report the evaluation system as a reason.