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Educator preparation, professional development, performance and evaluation
While policymakers have demonstrated considerable enthusiasm for “science of reading” initiatives, the evidence on the impact of related reforms when implemented at scale is limited. In this pre-registered, quasi-experimental study, we examine California’s recent initiative to improve early literacy across the state’s lowest-performing elementary schools. The Early Literacy Support Block Grant (ELSBG) provided teacher professional development grounded in the science of reading as well as aligned supports (e.g., assessments and interventions), new funding (about $1000 per student), spending flexibility within specified guidelines, and expert facilitation and oversight of school-based planning. We find that ELSBG generated significant (and cost-effective) improvements in ELA achievement in its first two years of implementation (0.14 SD) as well as smaller, spillover improvements in math achievement.
School principals are viewed as critical actors 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. As commonly implemented, value-added models misattribute to principals changes in student performance caused by unobserved time-varying factors over which principals exert minimal control, leading to biased estimates of individual principals’ effectiveness and an overstatement of the magnitude of principal effects. Based on our framework, which better accounts for bias from time-varying factors, we find that little of the variation in student test scores or attendance is explained by persistent effectiveness differences between principals. Across contexts, the estimated standard deviation of principal value-added is roughly 0.03 student-level standard deviations in math achievement and 0.01 standard deviations in reading.
While recent studies have demonstrated the potential of automated feedback to enhance teacher instruction in virtual settings, its efficacy in traditional classrooms remains unexplored. In collaboration with TeachFX, we conducted a pre-registered randomized controlled trial involving 523 Utah mathematics and science teachers to assess the impact of automated feedback in K-12 classrooms. This feedback targeted “focusing questions” – questions that probe students’ thinking by pressing for explanations and reflection. Our findings indicate that automated feedback increased teachers’ use of focusing questions by 20%. However, there was no discernible effect on other teaching practices. Qualitative interviews revealed mixed engagement with the automated feedback: some teachers noticed and appreciated the reflective insights from the feedback, while others had no knowledge of it. Teachers also expressed skepticism about the accuracy of feedback, concerns about data security, and/or noted that time constraints prevented their engagement with the feedback. Our findings highlight avenues for future work, including integrating this feedback into existing professional development activities to maximize its effect.
Practice-based teacher education has increasingly been adopted as an alternative to more traditional, conceptually-focused pedagogies, yet the field lacks causal evidence regarding the relative efficacy of these approaches. To address this issue, we randomly assigned 185 college students to one of three experimental conditions reflective of common conceptually-focused and practice-based teacher preparation pedagogies. We find significant and large positive effects of practice-based pedagogies on participants’ skills in eliciting and responding to student thinking as demonstrated through a written assessment and a short teaching episode. Our findings contribute to a developing evidence base that can assist policymakers and teacher educators in designing effective teacher preparation at scale.
While it is commonly believed that teachers take more absences than other professionals, few empirical studies have systematically investigated the prevalence of teacher absences in the US. This study documents the level of teacher absences and compares it with other college-educated workers. Using the Monthly Current Population Survey between the 1995 and 2019 school years, we conduct descriptive and regression analysis to estimate the level of teacher absences and the absence gaps between teachers and other college-educated workers. Additional regression analysis using data from the Leave Module of the American Time Use Survey is conducted to explain the gaps in absences between teachers and other observationally similar college-educated workers. The analysis reveals that 7% of teachers are absent at least once weekly, accounting for around 4% of their weekly working time. Compared to observationally similar college-educated workers, teachers take the same, if not less, amount of absences. Further investigation of teachers’ absence behaviour indicates that teachers report fewer demands for absences, have fewer paid leaves, and are more likely to attend work despite needing to be absent. We also find that individuals who prefer fewer absences tend to enter the teaching profession. This study adds to the emerging group of research examining the nature, determinants, and consequences of teacher absences using national-level data. Our findings imply that policymakers may be able to use more support programs to increase teacher attendance.
The persistently high employment share of the informal sector makes entrepreneurship a necessity for youth in many developing countries. We exploit exogenous variation in the implementation of Rwanda’s entrepreneurship education reform in secondary schools to evaluate its effect on student economic outcomes up to three years after graduation. Using a randomized controlled trial, we evaluated a three-year intensive training for entrepreneurship teachers, finding pedagogical changes as intended and increased entrepreneurial activity among students. In this paper, we tracked students following graduation and found that increased entrepreneurship persisted one year later, in 2019. Students from treated schools were six percentage points more likely to be entrepreneurs, an increase of 19 percent over the control mean. However, gains in entrepreneurship faded after three years, in 2021. Employment was six percentage points lower in the treatment group. By some measures, income and profits were lower in the treatment group, with no robust differences in these outcomes overall. Lower incomes and profits were concentrated among marginal students induced into entrepreneurship by the program. Youth entrepreneurship programs may therefore steer some participants away from their comparative advantage. Nonetheless, the program increased university enrollment, suggesting the potential for higher long run returns.
Teacher preparation programs are increasingly expected to use data on pre-service teacher (PST) skills to drive program improvement and provide targeted supports. Observational ratings are especially vital, but also prone to measurement issues. Scores may be influenced by factors unrelated to PSTs’ instructional skills, including rater standards and mentor teachers’ skills. Yet we know little about how these measurement challenges play out in the PST context. Here we investigate the reliability and sensitivity of two observational measures. We find measures collected during student teaching are especially prone to measurement issues; only 3-4% of variation in scores reflects consistent differences between PSTs, while 9-17% of variation can be attributed to the mentors with whom they work. When high scores stem not from strong instructional skills, but instead from external circumstances, we cannot use them to make consequential decisions about PSTs’ individual needs or readiness for independent teaching.
Ample research investigates returns to teacher preparation and other instructional inputs for the general student population, yet evidence is lacking for students with disabilities (SWDs). This study uses North Carolina data to estimate achievement returns to teacher preparation by classroom type and level of classroom support for SWDs. I find that SWDs perform better when placed in inclusive classrooms and when these classrooms have co-teachers. Regardless of classroom type, SWDs benefit from more experienced teachers, but only gain from special education certified teachers in certain classroom configurations. These results indicate that education leaders can optimize resource allocation by minimizing separate classrooms for SWDs, relaxing special education certification requirements, and investing in an experienced teacher workforce with support from co-teachers.
This study provides the first large-scale quantitative exploration of mathematical language use in U.S. classrooms. Our approach employs natural language processing techniques to describe variation in the use of mathematical language in 1,657 fourth and fifth grade lessons by teachers and students in 317 classrooms in four districts over three years. Students’ exposure to mathematical language varies substantially across lessons and between teachers. Students whose teachers use more mathematical language are more likely to use it themselves, and they perform better on standardized tests. These findings suggest that teachers play a substantial role in students’ mathematical language use.
Novice teachers improve substantially in their first years on the job, but we know remarkably little about the nature of this skill development. Using data from Tennessee, we leverage a feature of the classroom observation protocol that asks school administrators to identify an item on which the teacher should focus their improvement efforts. This “area of refinement” overcomes a key measurement challenge endemic to inferring from classroom observation scores the development of specific teaching skills. We show that administrators disproportionately identify two teaching skills when observing novice teachers: classroom management and presenting content. Struggling with classroom management, in particular, is linked to high rates of novice teacher attrition. Among those who remain, we observe subsequent improvement in these skills.