Most of us can point to that one educator who truly affected our lives — both in and out of the classroom. We remember the one teacher who really pushed us to achieve. Or the instructor who refused to let us take the easy way out. And while we may not remember much about that year in the seventh grade, say, we definitely remember that educator from that year.
Which is why it is always so interesting when you hear folks arguing that “good teachers” can’t be measured in terms of student performance. Yes, there are multiple measures that need to go into determining educator effectiveness. Yes, there are inputs a teacher brings to the classroom that need to be factored in. But at the end of the day, those teachers who likely left their marks on our lives also left their marks on our GPAs.
What shone through the study was the variation among teachers. Great teachers not only raised test scores significantly — an effect that mostly faded within a few years — but also left their students with better life outcomes. A great teacher (defined as one better than 84 percent of peers) for a single year between fourth and eighth grades resulted in students earning almost 1 percent more at age 28.
Suppose that the bottom 5 percent of teachers could be replaced by teachers of average quality. The three economists found that each student in the classroom would have extra cumulative lifetime earnings of more than $52,000. That’s more than $1.4 million in gains for the classroom.
We should all be able to agree that all teachers should be evaluated every year to determine the sort of job they are doing. We should all be able to agree that good teachers have a demonstrable impact on their students, including on student achievement measures. We should all be able to agree that those good teachers are particularly important levers in the lives of low-income and minority students. So with all of this agreement, why do we fight teacher effectiveness measures with such gusto? Why do we fear outcomes being part of educator evaluation?
Research such as that reflected on by Kristof and released by EdTrust makes a few facts clearer than ever. Good teachers are essential if we are to improve student learning and close the achievement gaps. We can determine who those good teachers are, and we can use test scores to help get there. We need to do everything possible to determine who those good teachers are and ensure they are where they are needed the most. And while it is not in the research, we need to properly pay and support those teachers that are making the sort of differences we expect to see in our classrooms.
Enough for today’s lesson. Class dismissed.