Can You Recognize an Effective Teacher When You Recruit One?

Jonah Rockoff, Brian Jacob, Thomas Kane, and Douglas Staiger
National Bureau of Economic Research
November 2008

Wouldn't it be swell if during the hiring process districts had better tools with which to identify the most promising teacher candidates? This technical study by a quartet of research heavy-hitters gets us one step closer to that administrator's dream. It examines whether various lesser studied teacher characteristics (versus the traditional ones like graduate education and certification) predict teacher effectiveness. Specifically, it examines content knowledge, cognitive ability, personality traits (like conscientiousness and agreeableness), feelings of self-efficacy, and scores on a teacher pre-screening evaluation, which measured level of organization and planning, among other areas. The study included a survey sample, which included roughly 400 new (in 2006-07) elementary and middle school math teachers in New York City, and a student achievement sample, which included most of the survey sample plus all students and teachers in grades 4-8 in New York City (approximately 13,000 classrooms in 988 schools). Besides survey and achievement data, researchers also collected administrative data like retention and teacher absences. Out of this, a handful of variables were found to have statistically significant relationships with student and teacher outcomes (for instance, teachers' math content knowledge was strongly related to students' math achievement--no surprise there). The bigger story, however, is that when all of these variables were combined into just two batches--cognitive skills (like SAT scores and math knowledge) and non-cognitive skills (like personal efficacy and extravert tendencies)--an increase in either of them was associated with statistically significant (though modest) increases in math achievement. Also, in a pleasant surprise, teachers with stronger cognitive skills were found to be more likely to return to teaching in New York City the next year. The takeaway here? Thanks to this sort of research, school districts can start to make smarter hiring decisions based on more nuanced predictors of teacher effectiveness. You can find the study (and its well-reasoned limitations) for a small fee here.

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