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Educator preparation, professional development, performance and evaluation

David D. Liebowitz, Lorna Porter, Dylan Bragg.

Despite frequent political and policy debates, the effects of imposing accountability pressures on public school teachers are empirically indeterminate. In this paper, we study the effects of accountability in the context of teacher responses to student behavioral infractions in the aftermath of teacher evaluation reforms. We leverage cross-state variation in the timing of state policy implementation to estimate whether teachers change the rate at which they remove students from their classrooms. We find that higher-stakes teacher evaluation had no causal effect on the rates of disciplinary referrals, and we find no evidence of heterogeneous effects for grades subject to greater accountability pressures or in schools facing differing levels of disciplinary infractions. Our results are precisely estimated and robust to a battery of specification checks. Our findings provide insights on the effects of accountability policy on the black-box of classroom practice and highlight the loose-coupling of education policy and teacher behaviors.

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David D. Liebowitz.

Teacher evaluation policies seek to improve student outcomes by increasing the effort and skill levels of current and future teachers. Current policy and most prior research treats teacher evaluation as balancing two aims: accountability and growth. Proper teacher evaluation design has been understood as successfully weighting the accountability and growth dimensions of policy and practice. I detail six assumptions underlying teacher evaluation for growth and accountability and assess their reasonableness in light of empirical evidence from the personnel economics, social psychology and management literatures. I simulate a set of teacher evaluation policies and find that those that treat evaluation for accountability and evaluation for growth as substitutes modestly outperform policies that treat them as complements. The teachers’ rates of learning through evaluation and the labor market effects of evaluation are critical in determining its impact. I conclude with recommendations for the design of teacher evaluation policies.

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Alex Eble, Chris Frost, Alpha Camara, Baboucarr Bouy, Momodou Bah, Maitri Sivaraman, Jenny Hsieh, Chitra Jayanty, Tony Brady, Piotr Gawron, Peter Boone, Diana Elbourne.

Despite large schooling and learning gains in many developing countries, children in highly deprived areas are often unlikely to achieve even basic literacy and numeracy. We study how much of this problem can be resolved using a multi-pronged intervention combining several distinct interventions known to be effective in isolation. We conducted a cluster-randomized trial in The Gambia evaluating a literacy and numeracy intervention designed for primary-aged children in remote parts of poor countries. The intervention combines para teachers delivering after-school supplementary classes, scripted lesson plans, and frequent monitoring focusing on improving teacher practice (coaching). A similar intervention previously demonstrated large learning gains in a cluster-randomized trial in rural India. After three academic years, Gambian children receiving the intervention scored 46 percentage points (3.2 SD) better on a combined literacy and numeracy test than control children.  This intervention holds great promise to address low learning levels in other poor, remote settings.

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Matthew Ronfeldt, Emanuele Bardelli, Hannah Mullman, Matthew Truwit, Kevin Schaaf, Julie C. Baker.
Prior work suggests that recent graduates from teacher education programs feel better prepared to teach and are more instructionally effective when they learned to teach with more instructionally effective cooperating teachers. However, we do not know if these relationships are causal. Even if they are, we do not know if it is possible to recruit cooperating teachers who are, on average, significantly more effective than those currently serving. This paper describes an innovative strategy to use historical administrative on teachers to recommend the most instructionally effective and experienced teachers in various districts and subject areas to serve as cooperating teachers. In collaboration with a large teacher education program, partnering districts were randomized to receive either recommendation lists or use business-as-usual approaches. Those districts that received recommendations recruited significantly and meaningfully more effective and experienced cooperating teachers. Additionally, preservice student teachers who learned to teach in these same districts felt significantly better prepared to teach. This study offers an innovative and low-cost strategy for recruiting effective and experienced cooperating teachers and presents some of the first evidence that learning to teach with instructionally effective cooperating teachers has a causal impact on feelings of preparedness to teach.

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Matthew Kraft, Alexander Bolves.

We explore the potential for mobile technology to facilitate more frequent and higher-quality teacher-parent communication among a sample of 132 New York City public schools. We provide participating schools with free access to a mobile communication app and randomize schools to receive intensive training and guidance for maximizing the efficacy of the app. User supports led to substantially higher levels of communication within the app in the treatment year, but had few subsequent effects on perceptions of communication quality or student outcomes. Treatment teachers used the app less frequently the following year when they no longer received communication tips and reminders. We analyze internal user data to suggest organizational policies schools might adopt to increase the take-up and impacts of mobile communication technology.

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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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