Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Quick! A teacher-effectiveness-research contest!

For a project we are working on at EWA, a colleague and I have been digging into a lot of research on teacher effectiveness. Tracking soundbites back to their source can be pretty easy in some cases: Sanders 1996! Hanushek 2005! But while collectively we think about this topic a massive amount, neither of us know what research, specifically, birthed the assertion that teachers are the biggest school factor in student achievement. Obviously we could get the answer in one phone call to the right person, but we would rather turn it into a contest. Those who answer correctly and first (there might be multiple answers) in the comments here will receive copies of new education books that I have already read but didn’t ruin in the tub or anything.

This whole thing got us thinking about other factoids—or possibly fictoids—that education writers are always trying to pin down, sometimes to no avail, sometimes from out-of-date sources. A third of all teachers leaving in three years, half leaving in five: this one comes up all the time. More?


  1. Off the top of my head, I believe that it is The Coleman Report (1960).

    I just looked up the year, and it seems to be 1966.

    Is that right?

  2. You might find an answer on the effects of teachers in John Hattie's meta-analysis

    was it really originally an assertion anyway or was it the result of some serious empirical work?

  3. Thanks! The teacher effectiveness crowd's use of wording of their truism reminds me of my Hog Nose Snake from when I was a kid, who would strike like a rattlesnake, and then play dead, and repeat the acts over and over.

    Three caveats should be remembered. Firstly, they did so using data. But I've never seen evidence that these data people had enough knowledge of actual school realities to ask the proper questions of the data. Would they even know how to ask questions that fairly calculated the effects of the football coach, or for that matter the cafeteria ladies, or even place counselors in the teacher category of elsewhere? Secondly, accurately of not, they compare teacher effects with other factors in schools as they were constituted. Did it ever occur to them that effective schools are teams and more achievement would have occurred in schools if teamwork is fostered? For instance, is the football coach, the cafeteria lady, the bus driver, the counselor, and a teacher take an interest in a troubled kid, tag-team him or her, and that kid blossoms and becomes an academic superstar, who gets credit for his subsequent achievement gains? Things like that happen all of the time, even in awful schools, but they happen much more often where that team mentality exists.

    And thirdly, since they started the data collection, America has hired far more educators, but fewer of them have been teachers. Because of accountability and the teacher quality ideology, many/most of those new people are used to support teachers doing classroom instruction. Perhaps, using those respurces to directly support students would have been more effective. The obvious example is the hoards of Curriculum Facilitators coaching teachers on data walls etc. Perhaps they would have been more effective as graduation coaches working directly with kids. Being economists, these "reformers" should be able to calculate the Opportunity costs of policies enacted in the name of their movement. But, how often to you see them do a cost benefit analysis of their policies? To do so, however, they'd need to collaborate with people who know enough about real schools in order to help the data guys to craft falsifiable hypotheses. That gets us back to point #1.