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Recent education reform efforts commonly aim at improving teacher effectiveness. One study of three large districts finds that they spent approximately $18,000 for professional development for each teacher each year. Numerous education agencies, such as the District of Columbia Public Schools with its IMPACT effectiveness system for school-based personnel, and the state of Tennessee with its Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model, have invested substantial resources in teacher evaluation and feedback.
These policies arose, at least in part, from the recognition that teachers affect not only student learning in the short-run, but also long-run outcomes such as college attendance and earnings as adults. A recent study following more than two million students estimated that having a teacher in grades four through eight with average effectiveness, instead of one who is among the five percent least effective, would increase a students’ lifetime income by more than $250,000. Teachers also affect the likelihood that a student attends any college, attends a higher-ranked college, does not have children as a teenager, and saves more for retirement.
Most of the researchers examining the effects of teachers on student test performance have concluded that math teachers have a greater effect on students’ performance on math exams than English language arts teachers have on students’ performance on English exams. For example, studies in North Carolina and New York City found that math teachers had approximately a 35 percent greater impact on test scores in their field than did English teachers.
Although the focus here is on teachers’ contributions to student learning, the findings may also have broader implications for other interventions that aim to develop students’ skills in reading and language arts. The results suggest that observed gains on English language arts assessments in the year of instruction do not fully capture the benefits that students are accruing from high quality English language arts instruction. The capacities that students are developing in their English classes—whether these be skills in logic or organization or the motivation they need to excel in school—are advancing their math learning almost as much as their learning in math class. Understanding what good English teachers are doing well may be just what we need to improve math outcomes for students.