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Educator preparation, professional development, performance and evaluation

Kathleen Lynch, Heather Hill, Kathryn Gonzalez, Cynthia Pollard.

More than half of U.S. children fail to meet proficiency standards in mathematics and science in fourth grade. Teacher professional development and curriculum improvement are two of the primary levers that school leaders and policymakers use to improve children’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) learning, yet until recently, the evidence base for understanding their effectiveness was relatively thin. In recent years, a wealth of rigorous new studies using experimental designs have investigated whether and how STEM instructional improvement programs work. This article highlights contemporary research on how to improve classroom instruction and subsequent student learning in STEM. Instructional improvement programs that feature curriculum integration, teacher collaboration, content knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, and how students learn all link to stronger student achievement outcomes. We discuss implications for policy and practice.

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Serena Canaan, Pierre Mouganie.

In an effort to reduce the STEM gender gap, policymakers often propose providing women with close mentoring by female scientists. This is based on the idea that female scientists might act as role models and counteract negative gender stereotypes that are pervasive in science fields. However, as of yet, there is still no clear evidence on the role of mentor or advisor gender in reducing the STEM gender gap. We use rich administrative data from a private 4-year college to provide some of the first causal evidence on the impact of advisor gender on women's STEM degree attainment. We exploit a unique setting where students are randomly assigned to academic advisors--who are also faculty members--in their freshman year of college. We find that being matched to a female rather than a male science advisor substantially narrows the gender gaps in STEM enrollment and graduation, with the strongest effects occurring among students who are highly skilled in math. In contrast, the gender of an advisor from a non-science department has no impact on students' major choice. Our results indicate that providing close mentoring or advising by female scientists can play an important role in promoting women's participation and persistence in STEM fields. 

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Simon Burgess, Shenila Rawal, Eric S. Taylor.

This paper reports improvements in teacher job performance, as measured by student test scores, resulting from a program of (zero-) low-stakes peer evaluation. Teachers working at the same school observed and scored each other’s teaching. Students in randomly-assigned treatment schools scored 0.07σ higher on math and English exams (0.09σ lower-bound on TOT). Within each treatment school, teachers were further randomly assigned to roles: observer and observee. Teachers in both roles improved, perhaps slightly more for observers. The typical treatment school completed 2-3 observations per observee teacher. Variation in observations was generated partly by randomly assigning a low and high (2*low) dose of suggested number of observations. Benefits were quite similar across dose conditions. 

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Brendan Bartanen.

Using statewide data from Tennessee over more than a decade, this paper estimates the job performance returns to principal experience as measured by student, teacher, and principal outcomes. I find that principals improve substantially over time, evidenced by higher student achievement, higher ratings from supervisors, and lower rates of teacher turnover. However, improvement in student achievement as principals gain experience does not carry over when principals change schools. The returns to school-specific experience are largest for principals in high-poverty schools, highlighting the potential benefits of policies to improve the recruitment and retention of high-quality leaders in hard-to-staff environments.

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Heather Hill, Kathleen Lynch, Kathryn Gonzalez, Cynthia Pollard.

How should teachers spend their STEM-focused professional learning time? To answer this question, we analyzed a recent wave of rigorous new studies of STEM instructional improvement programs. We found that programs work best when focused on building knowledge teachers can use during instruction: knowledge of the curriculum materials they will use, knowledge of content and how content can be represented for learners, and knowledge of how students learn that content. We argue that such learning opportunities improve teachers’ professional knowledge and skill, potentially by supporting teachers in making more informed in-the-moment instructional decisions.

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Oded Gurantz, Matea Pender, Zachary Mabel, Cassandra Larson, Eric Bettinger.

We examine whether virtual advising – college counseling using technology to communicate remotely – increases postsecondary enrollment in selective colleges. We test this approach using a sample of approximately 16,000 high-achieving, low- and middle-income students identified by the College Board and randomly assigned to receive virtual advising from the College Advising Corps. The offer of virtual advising had no impact on overall college enrollment, but increased enrollment in high graduation rate colleges by 2.7 percentage points (5%), with instrumental variable impacts on treated students of 6.1 percentage points. We also find that non-white students who were randomly assigned to a nonwhite adviser exhibited stronger treatment effects.

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Matthew Kraft, Heather Hill.

This paper describes and evaluates a web-based coaching program designed to support teachers in implementing Common Core-aligned math instruction. Web-based coaching programs can be operated at relatively lower costs, are scalable, and make it more feasible to pair teachers with coaches who have expertise in their content area and grade level. Results from our randomized field trial document sizable and sustained effects on both teachers’ ability to analyze instruction and on their instructional practice, as measured the Mathematical Quality of Instruction (MQI) instrument and student surveys. However, these improvements in instruction did not result in corresponding increases in math test scores as measured by state standardized tests or interim assessments. We discuss several possible explanations for this pattern of results.

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Matthew Kraft, John Papay, Olivia Chi.

We examine the dynamic nature of teacher skill development using panel data on principals’ subjective performance ratings of teachers. Past research on teacher productivity improvement has focused primarily on one important but narrow measure of performance: teachers’ value-added to student achievement on standardized tests. Unlike value-added, subjective performance ratings provide detailed information about specific skill dimensions and are available for the many teachers in non-tested grades and subjects. Using a within-teacher returns to experience framework, we find, on average, large and rapid improvements in teachers’ instructional practices throughout their first ten years on the job as well as substantial differences in improvement rates across individual teachers. We also document that subjective performance ratings contain important information about teacher effectiveness. In the district we study, principals appear to differentiate teacher performance throughout the full distribution instead of just in the tails. Furthermore, prior performance ratings and gains in these ratings provide additional information about teachers’ ability to improve test scores that is not captured by prior value-added scores. Taken together, our study provides new insights on teacher performance improvement and variation in teacher development across instructional skills and individual teachers.

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James Soland.

Research has begun to investigate whether teachers and schools are as effective with certain student subgroups as they are with the overall student population.  Most of this research has examined the issue by trying to produce causal estimates of school contributions to short-term student growth (usually using value-added models) and has emphasized rank orderings of schools by subgroup.  However, not much is known about whether schools contributing to long-term growth for all students are also contributing to student growth by subgroup in ways that might close achievement gaps.  In this study, schools’ contributions to student growth are estimated separately for Black versus White students.  Results show that focusing on rank orderings of schools alone can mask troubling trends in relative achievement over time.  Options for how policymakers can sensibly hold schools accountable for student growth, including under The Every Student Succeeds Act, are discussed.

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Matthew Ronfeldt, Emanuele Bardelli, Stacey Brockman, Hannah Mullman.

Growing evidence suggests that preservice candidates receive better coaching and are more instructionally effective when they are mentored by more instructionally effective cooperating teachers (CTs). Yet, teacher education program leaders indicate it can be difficult to recruit instructionally effective teachers to serve as CTs, in part because teachers worry that serving may negatively impact district evaluation scores. Using a unique dataset on over 4,500 CTs, we compare evaluation scores during years these teachers served as CTs to years they did not. In years they served as CTs, teachers had significantly better observation ratings and somewhat better achievement gains, though not always at significant levels. These results suggest that concerns over lowered evaluations should not prevent teachers from serving as CTs.

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