Study shows teacher qualifications positively impact pupil performance

Despite the achievement gap that has historically existed between pupils from different racial backgrounds and poverty levels, at-risk pupils in some California school districts are outperforming pupils of similar backgrounds in other districts. Why? What are these districts doing to make their pupils so successful?

Anne Podolsky and colleagues at the Learning Policy Institute recently released a report first identifying the 156 California school districts performing better than expected, referred to as “positive outliers”, and then compared their characteristics to other districts in the state who have similar populations but are not performing as well.

Results show that schools in the successful districts were comprised of more experienced, well-qualified teachers than the less successful districts. After controlling for pupil social and economic status (SES) and district characteristics, teacher qualification emerged as the primary variable affecting achievement for all pupils, as measured by California’s English and maths assessments. In addition, years’ experience in a district was positively associated with achievement for African-American and Hispanic pupils.

The report notes that in the 2017–18 school year, California authorised more than 12,000 substandard permits and credentials, more than half of the entering workforce that year, many of whom were disproportionately assigned to schools serving the largest percentages of pupils of colour or from low SES backgrounds. The findings highlight how the state’s shortage of qualified teachers is negatively impacting pupil achievement.

Source: California’s positive outliers: Districts beating the odds (May 2019), Learning Policy Institute

Do teachers get better with more experience?

The Learning Policy Institute has published a review of research into teacher effectiveness as teachers become more experienced. The review takes advantage of advances in research methods and data systems that have allowed researchers to more accurately answer this question. Specifically, by including teacher fixed effects in their analyses, researchers have been able to compare a teacher with multiple years of experience to that same teacher when he or she had fewer years of experience.

The report reviews 30 studies published within the last 15 years that analyse the effect of teaching experience on student outcomes in the United States. The review concludes that:

  • Teaching experience is positively associated with student achievement gains throughout a teacher’s career. Gains in teacher effectiveness associated with experience are most steep in teachers’ initial years, but continue to be significant as teachers reach the second, and often third, decades of their careers.
  • As teachers gain experience, their students not only learn more, as measured by standardised tests, they are also more likely to do better on other measures of success, such as school attendance.
  • Teachers’ effectiveness increases at a greater rate when they teach in a supportive and collegial working environment, and when they accumulate experience in the same grade level, subject, or district.
  • More experienced teachers support greater student learning for their colleagues and the school as a whole, as well as for their own students.

Source: Does Teaching Experience Increase Teacher Effectiveness? A Review of the Research (2016), Learning Policy Institute.