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Educator preparation, professional development, performance and evaluation

Seth Gershenson, Stephen B. Holt, Adam Tyner.

Teachers are among the most important inputs in the education production function. One mechanism by which teachers might affect student learning is through the grading standards they set for their classrooms. However, the effects of grading standards on student outcomes are relatively understudied. Using administrative data that links individual students and teachers in 8th and 9th grade Algebra I classrooms from 2006 to 2016, we examine the effects of teachers’ grading standards on student learning and attendance. High teacher grading standards in Algebra I increase student learning both in Algebra I and in subsequent math classes. The effect on student achievement is positive and similar in size across student characteristics and levels of ability, students’ relative rank within the classroom, and school context. High teacher grading standards also lead to a modest reduction in student absences.

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David Blazar.

Using a causal mediation framework, I find several social dynamics that explain how and why Black teachers benefit students. Random assignment to a Black versus a White teacher in upper-elementary school increases self-efficacy and engagement of Black students (0.6 SD), and increases test scores (0.2 SD) and decreases chronic absenteeism (60% reduction) of all students. These total effects are partly explained by “good” teaching practices and mindsets that Black teachers possess more than White teachers. However, the measures do not fully mediate the total effects of Black teachers, indicating that other social interactions such as role modeling also play a role. The findings provide motivation for recruiting more Black teachers and insight into training the current, mostly White teacher workforce.

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Tuan D. Nguyen, Chanh B. Lam, Paul Bruno.

Teachers are critical to student learning, but adequately staffing classrooms has been challenging in many parts of the country. Even though teacher shortages are being reported across the U.S., teacher shortages are poorly understood. Determining and addressing teacher shortages is difficult due to the lack of data. Neither the federal government nor the majority of states have provided sufficient information on teacher shortages. To address this gap, we systematically examine news reports, department of education data, and publicly-available information on teacher shortages for every state in the U.S. We find there are at least 36,000 vacant positions along with at least 163,000 positions being held by underqualified teachers, both of which are conservative estimates of the extent of teacher shortages nationally. We discuss the implications of our findings for a robust data system, including more specific and consistent reporting of shortage, as well as implications for teacher preparation and education in the United States.

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Christine Mulhern.

Counselors are a common school resource for students navigating complicated and con- sequential education choices. I estimate counselors’ causal effects using quasi-random assignment policies in Massachusetts. Counselors vary substantially in their effectiveness at increasing high school graduation and college attendance, selectivity, and persistence. Counselor effects on educational attainment are similar in magnitude to teacher effects, but they flow through improved information and assistance more than cognitive or non-cognitive skill development. Counselor effectiveness is most important for low-income and low-achieving students, so improving access to effective counseling may be a promising way to increase educational attainment and close socioeconomic gaps in education.

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Dorottya Demszky, Jing Liu, Heather C. Hill, Dan Jurafsky, Chris Piech.

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.

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Heather C. Hill, Virginia S. Lovison.

In recent decades, U.S. education leaders have advocated for more intellectually ambitious mathematics instruction in classrooms. Evidence about whether more ambitious mathematics instruction has filtered into contemporary classrooms, however, is largely anecdotal. To address this issue, we analyzed 93 lessons recorded by a national random sample of middle school mathematics teachers. We find that lesson quality varies, with the typical lesson containing some elements of mathematical reasoning and sense-making, but also teacher-directed instruction with limited student input. Lesson quality correlates with teachers’ use of a textbook and with teachers’ mathematical background. We consider these findings in light of efforts to transform U.S. mathematics instruction.

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Brendan Bartanen, Aliza N. Husain, David D. Liebowitz.

School principals are viewed as critical mechanisms by which to improve student outcomes, but there remain important methodological questions about how to measure principals' effects. We propose a framework for measuring principals' contributions to student outcomes and apply it empirically using data from Tennessee, New York City, and Oregon. We find that using contemporaneous student outcomes to assess principal performance is flawed. Value-added models misattribute to principals changes in student performance caused by factors that principals minimally control. Further, little to none of the variation in average student test scores or attendance is explained by persistent effectiveness differences between principals.

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Stephen B. Holt, Katie Vinopal, Heasun Choi, Lucy C. Sorensen.
While a growing body of literature has documented the negative impacts of exclusionary punishments, such as suspensions, on academic outcomes, less is known about how teachers vary in disciplinary behaviors and the attendant impacts on students. We use administrative data from North Carolina elementary schools to examine the extent to which teachers vary in their use of referrals and investigate the impact of more punitive teachers on student attendance and achievement. We also estimate the effect of teachers' racial bias in the use of referrals on student outcomes. We find more punitive teachers increase student absenteeism and reduce student achievement. Moreover, more punitive teachers negatively affect the achievement of students who do not receive disciplinary sanctions from the teacher. Similarly, while teachers with racial bias in the use of referrals do not negatively affect academic outcomes for White students, they significantly increase absenteeism and reduce achievement for Black students. We find the negative effects of both more punitive and more biased teachers persist into middle school and beyond. The results suggest punitive disciplinary measures do not aid teachers in productively managing classrooms; rather, teachers taking more punitive stances may undermine student engagement and learning in both the short- and long- run. Furthermore, bias in teachers' referral usage contributes to inequities in student outcomes.

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David Blazar, Melinda Adnot, Xinyi Zhong.

We examine heterogenous responses to job-embedded performance incentives along two dimensions theorized to drive motivation: (i) expectations of success when faced with easier versus more difficult tasks, and (ii) ones’ social identity as part of a marginalized group (in our case, race). Compared to the largely lab-based literature on this topic, we leverage data from a fully implemented teacher evaluation system from the District of Columbia Public Schools over a seven-year period (2009-10 through 2015-16). Our regression discontinuity estimates reveal not only that task difficulty and social/racial identity drive much of the incentive effects, but also that there is a strong interaction between the two. Low-performing teachers threatened with dismissal improved much more on tasks with low difficulty and high expectations of success, relative to more difficult tasks (roughly 0.3 SD versus 0.15 SD). These trends were particularly pronounced for Black teachers, who experienced fewer successes than White teachers in the evaluation system generally. We also find that high-performing Black teachers were less responsive than White teachers to an incentive to increase their base pay. At the same time, the responses of Black teachers to the salary incentive were malleable and tracked closely with district-led redesign efforts that aimed to ensure greater equity in terms of teachers most likely to reap the benefits of this incentive.

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Ariana Audisio, Rebecca Taylor-Perryman, Tim Tasker, Matthew P. Steinberg.

Teachers are the most important school-specific factor in student learning. Yet, little evidence exists linking teacher professional learning programs and the various strategies or components that comprise them to student achievement. In this paper, we examine a teacher fellowship model for professional learning designed and implemented by Leading Educators, a national nonprofit organization that aims to bridge research and practice to improve instructional quality and accelerate learning across school systems. During the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years, Leading Educators conducted its fellowship program for teachers and school leaders to provide educators ongoing, collaborative, job-embedded professional development and to improve student achievement. Relying on quasi-experimental methods, we find that a school’s participation in the fellowship model increased student proficiency rates in math and English language arts on state achievement exams. Further, student achievement benefitted from a more sustained duration of teacher participation in the fellowship model, and the impact on student achievement varied depending on the share of a school’s teachers who participated in the fellowship model and the extent to which teachers independently selected into the fellowship model or were appointed to participate by school leaders. Taken together, findings from this paper should inform professional learning organizations, schools, and policymakers on the design, implementation and impact of teacher professional learning.

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