Seth Gershenson

Institution: American University

Seth Gershenson is Professor of Public Policy in the School of Public Affairs (SPA) at American University. He is also Research Fellow at the Institute of Labor Economics (IZA), Senior Technical Advisor to Institute for Education Policy at Johns Hopkins, and Coordinator of SPA’s Analytics and Management Institute. Professor Gershenson works broadly in the economics of education and education policy, with specific interests in teacher labor markets, summer learning loss, student absences, community-wide shocks, teacher expectations and implicit bias, and the causes and consequences of the underrepresentation of teachers of color. His research has been funded by the Smith-Richardson Foundation, Spencer Foundation, American Educational Research Association, W.E. Upjohn Institute, Association for Institutional Research, and Google; published in leading education-policy academic journals; and featured in media outlets such as USA Today, The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, NPR, The Washington Post, Huffington Post,, NBC News, and The Atlantic. Professor Gershenson received his Ph.D. in Economics from Michigan State University in 2011. You can learn more about Professor Gershenson’s research here.


Seth Gershenson, Constance A. Lindsay, Nicholas W. Papageorge, Romaine Campbell, Jessica H. Rendon.

The US teaching force remains disproportionately white while the student body grows more diverse. It is therefore important to understand how and under what conditions white teachers learn racial competency. This study applies a mixed-methods approach to investigate the hypothesis that Black peers improve white teachers’ effectiveness when teaching Black students. The quantitative portion of this study relies on longitudinal data from North Carolina to show that having a Black same-grade peer significantly improves the achievement and reduces the suspension rates of white teachers’ Black students. These effects are persistent over time and largest for novice teachers. Qualitative evidence from open-ended interviews of North Carolina public school teachers reaffirms these findings. Broadly, our findings suggest that the positive impact of Black teachers’ ability to successfully teach Black students is not limited to their direct interaction with Black students but is augmented by spillover effects on early-career white teachers, likely through peer learning.

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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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Victoria Hunter Gibney, Kristine L. West, Seth Gershenson.

The burnout, stress, and work-life balance challenges faced by teachers have received renewed interest due to the myriad disruptions and changes to K-12 schooling brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, even prior to the pandemic relatively little was known about teachers’ time use outside of the classroom, the blurring of work and home boundaries, and how teachers compare to similar professionals in these regards. We use daily time-diary data from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) for 3,227 teachers and 1,947 professionals in similarly prosocial occupations from 2003 to 2019 to examine occupational differences in time use. Compared to observationally similar non-teachers, teachers spend significantly more time volunteering at their workplace and completing work outside the workplace. On average, teachers spend 12 more minutes working outside of the workplace on weekdays than observably similar non-teachers, and 39 more minutes on weekends. The weekend disparity is particularly large among secondary school teachers. This suggests that before the widespread switch to online and hybrid learning necessitated by the COVID pandemic, teachers were already navigating blurrier work-life boundaries than their counterparts in similar professions. This has important implications for teacher turnover and for the effectiveness and wellness of teachers who remain in the profession.

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Seth Gershenson.

Teachers are among the most important school-provided determinants of student success. Effective teachers improve students’ test scores as well as their attendance, behavior, and earnings as adults. However, students do not enjoy equal access to effective teachers. This article reviews some of the key challenges associated with teacher policy confronted by school leaders and education policymakers, and how the tools of applied economics can help address those challenges. The first challenge is that identifying effective teachers is difficult. Economists use value-added models to estimate teacher effectiveness, which works well in certain circumstances, but should be just one piece of a multi-measure strategy for identifying effective teachers. We also discuss how different policies, incentives, school characteristics, and professional-development interventions can increase teacher effectiveness; this is important, as schools face the daunting challenge of hiring effective teachers, helping teachers to improve, and removing ineffective teachers from the classroom. Finally, we discuss the supply and mobility of teachers, including the consequences of teacher absenteeism, the distribution of initial teaching placements, and the characteristics and preferences of those who enter the profession.

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Stephen B. Holt, Rui Wang, Seth Gershenson.

Teaching is often assumed to be a relatively stressful occupation and occupational stress among teachers has been linked to poor mental health, attrition from the profession, and decreased effectiveness in the classroom. Despite widespread concern about teachers’ mental health, however, little empirical evidence exists on long-run trends in teachers’ mental health or the prevalence of mental health problems in teaching relative to other professions. We address this gap in the literature using nationally representative data from the 1979 and 1997 cohorts of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY). In the 1979 cohort, women who become teachers have similar mental health to non-teachers prior to teaching but enjoy better mental health than their non-teaching peers, on average, while working as teachers. However, in the 1997 cohort teachers self-report worse mental health, on average, than the 1979 cohort and fare no better than their non-teaching professional peers while teaching. Overall, teachers seem to enjoy mental health outcomes that are as good or better than their peers in other professions.

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