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[Epistemic status: This is really complicated, this is not my field, people who have spent their entire lives studying this subject have different opinions, and I don’t claim to have done more than a very superficial survey.
If they start with a bunch of kids who have always scored around twentieth percentile, and they teach them so much that now the kids score at the fortieth percentile, then even though their kids are still below average they’ve clearly done some good work.Teacher certification, years of experience, certification, degrees, et cetera have no effect.This is consistent with most other research, such as Miller, Mc Kenna, and Mc Kenna (1998).In order to say more than this we have to have a more precise way of identifying exactly which teachers are good, which is going to be more complicated. Suppose you want to figure out which teachers in a certain district are the best.You know that the only thing truly important in life is standardized test scores , so you calculate the average test score for each teacher’s class, then crown whoever has the highest average as Teacher Of The Year. But you’ll probably just give the award to whoever teaches the gifted class.Rank how many percentile points on average a teacher’s students go up or down during the year, and you should be able to identify the best teachers for real this time.
Add like fifty layers of incomprehensible statistics and this is the basic idea behind VAM (value-added modeling), the latest Exciting Educational Trend and the lynchpin of President Obama’s educational reforms.But if we were consistently seeing things like everybody in Teacher A’s class getting A s and everyone in Teacher B’s class getting Ds, that would suggest that good teachers are very important.Here are the results from three teams that tried this (source, source, source): These differ a little in that the first one assumes away all noise (“unexplained variance”) and the latter two keep it in.The American Statistical Association summarizes the research as “teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores”, which seems about right.So put more simply – on average, individual students’ level of grit is what makes the difference.Although they try to control for this, having a couple of quantifiable variables like race and income probably doesn’t entirely capture the complexities of neighborhood sorting by social class.