Friday, March 18, 2011

Are teachers the most important factor?

I spent all day yesterday editing a summary of the research on teacher effectiveness, the first point of which was that this is not true:

“The idea, aggressively embraced by the Obama administration, is as straightforward as it is controversial: that teachers are the main factor in student growth—more than poverty, parents, curriculum, principals or other circumstances.”

This is a graf in the Washington Post piece I recommended yesterday on D.C.’s teacher evaluation system, and I am not sure how I missed the error, but I wanted to point it out now. Researchers concur that the bulk of student achievement differences can actually be attributed to factors outside school, such as poverty and parents. People writing articles and speeches have recently picked up on this and made sure to qualify the assertion with something like “in-school.”

But of the factors inside school that have been studied, are teachers the main factor? Sorting through the evidence on this is not easy. Many are comfortable saying that of the in-school factors studied, teachers are the main one. Others are not comfortable with that assessment because some research shows that teacher effectiveness only accounts for a small share of student differences, while other factors have not been studied with as much rigor.

Soon we will be putting out a paper that helps you put the research, and the rhetoric, in context.

1 comment:

  1. We reviewed the literature here, also opening with a misleading Obama Administration quote, here:

    The Administration (and others) seems to find clever ways to be technically correct but semantically misleading. From their "blueprint:"

    "Of all the work that occurs at every level of our education system, the interaction between teacher and student is the primary determinant of student success."

    By "every level of our education system," they presumably mean in-school factors, but that is not clear to the average reader. That may be why we end up with statements such as the one you quoted.