- Seth Gershenson
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Teachers are among the most important school-provided determinants of student success. Effective teachers improve students’ test scores as well as their attendance, behavior, and earnings as adults. However, students do not enjoy equal access to effective teachers. This article reviews some of the key challenges associated with teacher policy confronted by school leaders and education policymakers, and how the tools of applied economics can help address those challenges. The first challenge is that identifying effective teachers is difficult. Economists use value-added models to estimate teacher effectiveness, which works well in certain circumstances, but should be just one piece of a multi-measure strategy for identifying effective teachers. We also discuss how different policies, incentives, school characteristics, and professional-development interventions can increase teacher effectiveness; this is important, as schools face the daunting challenge of hiring effective teachers, helping teachers to improve, and removing ineffective teachers from the classroom. Finally, we discuss the supply and mobility of teachers, including the consequences of teacher absenteeism, the distribution of initial teaching placements, and the characteristics and preferences of those who enter the profession.
Teaching is often assumed to be a relatively stressful occupation and occupational stress among teachers has been linked to poor mental health, attrition from the profession, and decreased effectiveness in the classroom. Despite widespread concern about teachers’ mental health, however, little empirical evidence exists on long-run trends in teachers’ mental health or the prevalence of mental health problems in teaching relative to other professions. We address this gap in the literature using nationally representative data from the 1979 and 1997 cohorts of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY). In the 1979 cohort, women who become teachers have similar mental health to non-teachers prior to teaching but enjoy better mental health than their non-teaching peers, on average, while working as teachers. However, in the 1997 cohort teachers self-report worse mental health, on average, than the 1979 cohort and fare no better than their non-teaching professional peers while teaching. Overall, teachers seem to enjoy mental health outcomes that are as good or better than their peers in other professions.
We examine the long-run impacts of having a same-race teacher. First, we leverage data from the Tennessee STAR class-size experiment to show that black students randomly assigned to a black teacher in grades K-3 are 5 percentage points (7%) more likely to graduate from high school and 4 percentage points (13%) more likely to enroll in college than their same-school, same-race peers not assigned to a black teacher. Second, we replicate these results in North Carolina using quasi-experimental methods. Finally, we formally define "role model effects" as information provision, which facilitates an exploration of possible mechanisms that drive these results.