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Educator preparation, professional development, performance and evaluation
Given the spike of homicides in conflict zones of Colombia after the 2016 peace agreement, I study the causal effect of violence on college test scores. Using a difference-in-difference design with heterogeneous effects, I show how this increase in violence had a negative effect on college learning, and how this negative effect is mediated by factors such as poverty, college major, degree type, and study mode. A 10% increase in the homicide rate per 100,000 people in conflict zones of Colombia, had a negative impact on college test scores equivalent to 0.07 standard deviations in the English section of the test. This negative effect is larger in the case of poor and female students who saw a negative effect of approximately 0.16 standard deviations, equivalent to 3.4 percentage points out of the final score. Online and short-cycle students suffer a larger negative effect of 0.14 and 0.19 standard deviations respectively. This study provides among the first evidence of the negative effect of armed conflict on college learning and offers policy recommendations based on the heterogeneous effects of violence.
We study the returns to experience in teaching, estimated using supervisor ratings from classroom observations. We describe the assumptions required to interpret changes in observation ratings over time as the causal effect of experience on performance. We compare two difference-in-differences strategies: the two-way fixed effects estimator common in the literature, and an alternative which avoids potential bias arising from effect heterogeneity. Using data from Tennessee and Washington, DC, we show empirical tests relevant to assessing the identifying assumptions and substantive threats—e.g., leniency bias, manipulation, changes in incentives or job assignments—and find our estimates are robust to several threats.
Teachers affect a wide range of students’ educational and social outcomes, but how they contribute to students’ involvement in school discipline is less understood. We estimate the impact of teacher demographics and other observed qualifications on students’ likelihood of receiving a disciplinary referral. Using data that track all disciplinary referrals and the identity of both the referred and referring individuals from a large and diverse urban school district in California, we find students are about 0.2 to 0.5 percentage points (7% to 18%) less likely to receive a disciplinary referral from teachers of the same race or gender than from teachers of different demographic backgrounds. Students are also less likely to be referred by more experienced teachers and by teachers who hold either an English language learners or special education credential. These results are mostly driven by referrals for defiance and violence infractions, Black and Hispanic male students, and middle school students. While it is unclear whether these findings are due to variation in teachers’ effects on actual student behavior, variation in teachers’ proclivities to make disciplinary referrals, or a combination of the two, these results nonetheless suggest that teachers play a central role in the prevalence of, and inequities in, office referrals and subsequent student discipline.
Providing consistent, individualized feedback to teachers is essential for improving instruction but can be prohibitively resource intensive in most educational contexts. We develop an automated tool based on natural language processing to give teachers feedback on their uptake of student contributions, a high-leverage teaching practice that supports dialogic instruction and makes students feel heard. We conduct a randomized controlled trial as part of an online computer science course, Code in Place (n=1,136 instructors), to evaluate the effectiveness of the feedback tool. We find that the tool improves instructors’ uptake of student contributions by 27% and present suggestive evidence that our tool also improves students’ satisfaction with the course and assignment completion. These results demonstrate the promise of our tool to complement existing efforts in teachers’ professional development.
Many education policymakers and system leaders prioritize recruiting and developing effective school leaders as key mechanisms to improve school climate and student learning. Despite efforts to select and support successful school leaders, however, relatively little is understood about the prior professional experiences and skillsets that principals possess upon entry into their positions. In this descriptive paper, we use 14 years of administrative data on all educators in Oregon to trace the prior professional experiences and instructional effectiveness of those who become school leaders. We highlight that many principals in Oregon acquire educational leadership experience outside the assistant principal role and outside of the school district in which they serve as principals. We also find that when future school leaders were teachers, they improved student achievement at modestly higher rates than their peers. Insight into these topics has the potential to inform the pre-service training, recruitment and professional development of school leaders.
We study teachers’ choices about how to allocate class time across different instructional activities, for example, lecturing, open discussion, or individual practice. Our data come from secondary schools in England, specifically classes preceding GCSE exams. Students score higher in math when their teacher devotes more class time to individual practice and assessment. In contrast, students score higher in English if there is more discussion and work with classmates. Class time allocation predicts test scores separate from the quality of the teacher’s instruction during the activities. These results suggest opportunities to improve student achievement without changes in teachers’ skills.
When an employee expects repeated evaluation and performance incentives over time, the potential future rewards create an incentive to invest in building relevant skills. Because new skills benefit job performance, the effects of an evaluation program can persist after the rewards end or even anticipate the start of rewards. I test for persistence and anticipation effects, along with more conventional predictions, using a quasi-experiment in Tennessee schools. Performance improves with new evaluation measures, but gains are larger when the teacher expects future rewards linked to future scores. Performance rises further when incentives start and remains higher even after incentives end.
We develop a unifying conceptual framework for understanding and predicting teacher shortages at the state, region, district, and school levels. We then generate and test hypotheses about geographic, grade level, and subject variation in teacher shortages using data on teaching vacancies in Tennessee during the fall of 2019. We find that teacher staffing challenges are highly localized, causing shortages and surpluses to coexist. Aggregate descriptions of staffing challenges mask considerable variation between schools and subjects within districts. Schools with fewer local early-career teachers, smaller district salary increases, worse working conditions, and higher historical attrition rates have higher vacancy rates. Our findings illustrate why viewpoints about, and solutions to, shortages depend critically on whether one takes an aggregate or local perspective.
We examine the state of the U.S. K-12 teaching profession over the last half century by compiling nationally representative time-series data on four interrelated constructs: professional prestige, interest among students, preparation for entry, and job satisfaction. We find a consistent and dynamic pattern across every measure: a rapid decline in the 1970s, a swift rise in the 1980s, relative stability for two decades, and a sustained drop beginning around 2010. The current state of the teaching profession is at or near its lowest levels in 50 years. We identify and explore a range of factors that might explain these historical patterns including education funding, teacher pay, outside opportunities, unionism, barriers to entry, working conditions, accountability, autonomy, and school shootings.
An increasing share of new teachers enter the profession through alternative certification programs. While these programs increase teacher supply in areas facing critical shortages, they also increase instability in local teacher labor markets via high teacher turnover. A fundamental question is what effect these programs have on student achievement over the long run. To address this question, I study Teach For America (TFA) teachers working in New York City (NYC) between 2012 and 2019. This research brief reports on three key findings. First, I document five-year cumulative retention rates and find that, as expected, retention is lower for TFA teachers (25%) than for other NYC teachers working in similar schools (43%). Second, I estimate within-teacher returns to experience using a teacher fixed effects strategy and find that TFA teachers who continue teaching through year five improve at double the rate of the average NYC teacher. Third, I model the joint relationship between turnover and performance over time and find that the TFA performance advantage is large enough to offset turnover costs. I conclude that the net effect of TFA hiring on student achievement is positive in the short and long run.