A headline like “Better teachers help children read faster” seems to be stating the obvious, doesn’t it? Getting past the headline (reporters do not write headlines and spend a lot of time trying to get past them), journalists at Associated Press and Education Week had solid reasons to cover a new piece of work about teacher effects in the primary grades, especially given the current debate on value-added—hey, how often do we get a twin study in education research? And they did a good job explaining the work.
Even given its apparent methodological strengths, though, I’m not convinced that the original report in Science magazine, Teacher Quality Moderates the Genetic Effects on Early Reading, is telling us something anyone truly contests. People disagree on how much teachers can compensate for student deficiencies and how to measure their influence. But would anyone really predict that if one twin spends the year with that teacher everybody wants and the other with the teacher everyone dreads, they would come out in June reading at exactly the same level?