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Ten years ago, many policymakers viewed the reform of teacher evaluation as a highly promising mechanism to improve teacher effectiveness and student achievement. Recently, that enthusiasm has dimmed as the available evidence suggests the subsequent reforms had a mixed record of implementation and efficacy. Even in districts where there was evidence of efficacy, the early promise of teacher evaluation may not sustain as these systems mature and change. This study examines the evolving design of IMPACT, the teacher evaluation system in the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). We describe the recent changes to IMPACT which include higher performance standards for lower-performing teachers and a reduced emphasis on value-added test scores. Descriptive evidence on the dynamics of teacher retention and performance under this redesigned system indicate that lower-performing teachers are particularly likely to either leave or improve. Corresponding causal evidence similarly indicates that imminent dismissal threats for persistently low-performing teachers increased both teacher attrition and the performance of returning teachers. These findings suggest teacher evaluation can provide a sustained mechanism for improving the quality of teaching.
Few topics in education policy have received more attention than teacher turnover—and rightly so. The cost of losing a good teacher can be substantial and is born most directly by students. It is now widely recognized that teachers differ considerably in their ability to improve student outcomes, but discussions of teacher turnover rarely reflect these differences. Instead, we typically treat teacher turnover as uniformly negative. In this paper, we examine teacher turnover in the context of rigorous teacher evaluation to explore three questions. How does teacher turnover affect the quality of teaching and student achievement? How does teacher turnover vary by measured teaching effectiveness? And to what extent is the turnover of effective teachers associated with the evaluation system? We examine these questions employing data from the District of Columbia Public Schools. We find that in general turnover improves teacher quality and student achievement, but that this result masks large differences between teachers identified as more and less effective. Turnover among more effective teachers is relatively low, and when more-effective teachers exit, they infrequently report the evaluation system as a reason.
It has long been argued that cash balance (CB) pension plans offer a more equitable distribution of benefits than traditional final-average-salary (FAS) plans for teachers, particularly between short-termers and career teachers. However, it has also been understood that the impetus for reform would come from fiscal distress, rather than a concern for equity. In this paper I examine how the nation’s first CB plan for teachers, in Kansas, adopted under such conditions, has played out for system costs, and the level and distribution of individual benefits, compared to the FAS plan it replaced. My key findings are: (1) employer-funded benefits were modestly reduced, despite the surface appearance of somewhat generous employer matches; (2) more importantly, the cost of the pension guarantee, which is off-the-books under standard actuarial accounting, was reduced quite substantially. Thus, although much of the distributional benefit originally put forth did materialize, the primary gain for states considering reform may well be the reduction in the cost of risk-bearing. Indeed, I argue that these results are intrinsically linked: it is CB’s near-elimination of back-loading that simultaneously cuts the implicit cost of risk.
We show that grit, a skill that has been shown to be highly predictive of achievement, is malleable in childhood and can be fostered in the classroom environment. We evaluate a randomized educational intervention implemented in two independent elementary school samples. Outcomes are measured via a novel incentivized real effort task and performance in standardized tests. We find that treated students are more likely to exert effort to accumulate task-specific ability, and hence, more likely to succeed. In a follow up 2.5 years after the intervention, we estimate an effect of about 0.2 standard deviations on a standardized math test.
We study the effect of elementary school teachers’ beliefs about gender roles on student achievement. We exploit a natural experiment where teachers are prevented from self-selecting into schools, and conditional on school, students are allocated to teachers randomly. We show that girls who are taught for longer than a year by teachers with traditional gender views have lower performance in objective math and verbal tests, and this effect is amplified with longer exposure to the same teacher. We find no effect on boys. We show that the effect is partly mediated by teachers transmitting traditional beliefs to girls.
We evaluate the impact on competitiveness of a randomized educational intervention that aims to foster grit, a skill that is highly predictive of achievement. The intervention is implemented in elementary schools, and we measure its impact using a dynamic competition task with interim performance feedback. We find that when children are exposed to a worldview that emphasizes the role of effort in achievement and encourages perseverance, the gender gap in the willingness to compete disappears. We show that the elimination of this gap implies significant efficiency gains. We also provide suggestive evidence on a plausible causal mechanism that runs through the positive impact of enhanced grit on girls’ optimism about their future performance.
We evaluate the impact of a randomized educational intervention on children’s intertemporal choices. The intervention aims to improve the ability to imagine future selves, and encourages forward-looking behavior using a structured curriculum delivered by children’s own trained teachers. We find that treated students make more patient intertemporal decisions in incentivized experimental tasks. The results persist almost 3 years after the intervention, replicate well in a different sample, and are robust across different experimental elicitation methods. The effects also extend beyond experimental outcomes: we find that treated students are significantly less likely to receive a low “behavior grade”.
Despite frequent political and policy debates, the effects of imposing accountability pressures on public school teachers are empirically indeterminate. In this paper, we study the effects of accountability in the context of teacher responses to student behavioral infractions in the aftermath of teacher evaluation reforms. We leverage cross-state variation in the timing of state policy implementation to estimate whether teachers change the rate at which they remove students from their classrooms. We find that higher-stakes teacher evaluation had no causal effect on the rates of disciplinary referrals, and we find no evidence of heterogeneous effects for grades subject to greater accountability pressures or in schools facing differing levels of disciplinary infractions. Our results are precisely estimated and robust to a battery of specification checks. Our findings provide insights on the effects of accountability policy on the black-box of classroom practice and highlight the loose-coupling of education policy and teacher behaviors.
Teacher evaluation policies seek to improve student outcomes by increasing the effort and skill levels of current and future teachers. Current policy and most prior research treats teacher evaluation as balancing two aims: accountability and growth. Proper teacher evaluation design has been understood as successfully weighting the accountability and growth dimensions of policy and practice. I detail six assumptions underlying teacher evaluation for growth and accountability and assess their reasonableness in light of empirical evidence from the personnel economics, social psychology and management literatures. I simulate a set of teacher evaluation policies and find that those that treat evaluation for accountability and evaluation for growth as substitutes modestly outperform policies that treat them as complements. The teachers’ rates of learning through evaluation and the labor market effects of evaluation are critical in determining its impact. I conclude with recommendations for the design of teacher evaluation policies.
Despite large schooling and learning gains in many developing countries, children in highly deprived areas are often unlikely to achieve even basic literacy and numeracy. We study how much of this problem can be resolved using a multi-pronged intervention combining several distinct interventions known to be effective in isolation. We conducted a cluster-randomized trial in The Gambia evaluating a literacy and numeracy intervention designed for primary-aged children in remote parts of poor countries. The intervention combines para teachers delivering after-school supplementary classes, scripted lesson plans, and frequent monitoring focusing on improving teacher practice (coaching). A similar intervention previously demonstrated large learning gains in a cluster-randomized trial in rural India. After three academic years, Gambian children receiving the intervention scored 46 percentage points (3.2 SD) better on a combined literacy and numeracy test than control children. This intervention holds great promise to address low learning levels in other poor, remote settings.