- David Blazar
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Using a causal mediation framework, I find several social dynamics that explain how and why Black teachers benefit students. Random assignment to a Black versus a White teacher in upper-elementary school increases self-efficacy and engagement of Black students (0.6 SD), and increases test scores (0.2 SD) and decreases chronic absenteeism (60% reduction) of all students. These total effects are partly explained by “good” teaching practices and mindsets that Black teachers possess more than White teachers. However, the measures do not fully mediate the total effects of Black teachers, indicating that other social interactions such as role modeling also play a role. The findings provide motivation for recruiting more Black teachers and insight into training the current, mostly White teacher workforce.
We examine heterogenous responses to job-embedded performance incentives along two dimensions theorized to drive motivation: (i) expectations of success when faced with easier versus more difficult tasks, and (ii) ones’ social identity as part of a marginalized group (in our case, race). Compared to the largely lab-based literature on this topic, we leverage data from a fully implemented teacher evaluation system from the District of Columbia Public Schools over a seven-year period (2009-10 through 2015-16). Our regression discontinuity estimates reveal not only that task difficulty and social/racial identity drive much of the incentive effects, but also that there is a strong interaction between the two. Low-performing teachers threatened with dismissal improved much more on tasks with low difficulty and high expectations of success, relative to more difficult tasks (roughly 0.3 SD versus 0.15 SD). These trends were particularly pronounced for Black teachers, who experienced fewer successes than White teachers in the evaluation system generally. We also find that high-performing Black teachers were less responsive than White teachers to an incentive to increase their base pay. At the same time, the responses of Black teachers to the salary incentive were malleable and tracked closely with district-led redesign efforts that aimed to ensure greater equity in terms of teachers most likely to reap the benefits of this incentive.
The pursuit of multiple educational outcomes makes teaching a complex craft subject to potential conflicts and competing commitments. Using a dataset in which teachers were randomly assigned to students paired with videotapes of instruction, we both document and unpack such a tradeoff. Upper-elementary teachers who excel at raising students’ math test scores often are less successful at improving student-reported engagement in class (and vice versa). Further, the teaching practices that improve math test scores (e.g., cognitively demanding content) can simultaneously decrease engagement. At the same time, paired quantitative and qualitative analyses reveal two areas of practice that support both outcomes: active mathematics with opportunities for hands-on participation; and established routines and procedures to proactively organize the classroom environment. In addition to guiding practice-based teacher education, our mixed-methods analysis can serve as a model for rigorously studying and identifying dimensions of “good” teaching that promote multidimensional student development.
What guidance does research provide school districts about how to improve system performance and increase equity? Despite over 30 years of inquiry on the topic of effective districts, existing frameworks are relatively narrow in terms of disciplinary focus (primarily educational leadership perspectives) and research design (primarily qualitative case studies). To bridge this gap, we first review the theoretical literatures on how districts are thought to affect student outcomes, arguing that an expanded set of disciplinary perspectives—organizational behavior, political science, and economics—have distinct theories about why districts matter. Next, we conduct a systematic review of quantitative studies that estimate the relationship between district-level inputs and performance outcomes. This review reveals benefits of district-level policies that cross disciplinary perspectives, including higher teacher salaries and strategic hiring, lower student-teacher ratios, and data use. One implication is that future research on district-level policymaking needs to consider multiple disciplinary perspectives. Our review also reveals the need for significant additional causal evidence and provides a multidisciplinary map of theorized pathways through which districts could influence student outcomes that are ripe for rigorous testing.
Instructional coaching is an attractive alternative to one-size-fits-all teacher training and development in part because it is purposefully differentiated: programming is aligned to individual teachers’ needs and implemented by an individual coach. But, how much of the benefit of coaching as an instructional improvement model depends on the specific coach with whom a teacher works? Collaborating with a national teacher training and development organization, TNTP, we find substantial variability in effectiveness across coaches in terms of changes in teachers’ classroom practice (0.43 standard deviations). The magnitude of coach effectiveness heterogeneity is close to average coaching program effects identified in other research. These findings suggest that identifying, recruiting, and supporting highly skilled coaches will be key to scaling instructional coaching programs.