Teacher Characteristics and Student Achievement: Evidence from Teach For America
Almost a decade ago, Dan Goldhaber found that only about 3 percent of a teacher’s impact on her students came from readily observable characteristics (things like years of experience or degrees attained). The overwhelming impact could be attributed to intangibles like enthusiasm and “skills conveying knowledge.” This study from Harvard doctoral student Will Dobbie opens the vault of teacher-effectiveness characteristics once again. It links Teach For America acceptance records with New York City student-achievement data for new corps members between 2007 and 2009. The rigorous TFA admissions criteria—which include multiple measures like leadership experience, perseverance, and academic achievement—were evaluated to determine any correlations to ELA and math test scores of TFA-taught third through eighth graders. While the study didn’t uncover a trove of new insights, it did find statistically significant correlations between a few of the admissions criteria and the test scores for first year TFA teachers. Notably: A teacher’s prior achievement and perseverance are associated with student gains in math while commitment to the TFA mission is linked to growth in ELA; leadership experience is correlated with improvement in both subjects. (Correlations between student achievement and TFA admission criteria for second-year teachers were statistically insignificant.) Such findings push Goldhaber’s “3 percent” number northward, at least a little bit—in an area where every little bit counts.
|Click to listen to commentary on Dobbie's paper from the Education Gadfly Show podcast
Will Dobbie, “Teacher Characteristics and Student Achievement: Evidence from Teach For America,” (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, July 2011).
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