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Posted at 4:07 AM ET, 04/12/2010

New Harvard research on teacher effectiveness

By Valerie Strauss

My guest is Debra Viadero, an associate editor of Education Week and author of a blog called Inside School Research.

By Debra Viadero

With financial support from the U.S. Department of Education and major foundations, more and more states, districts and researchers are using data to study teachers and the effect they have on their students’ achievement. And in study after study, some of the same findings keep turning up.

Most show, for instance, that beginning teachers are less effective than experienced teachers, that teachers’ effectiveness grows dramatically in the first three years on the job and levels off afterward, and that, in many districts, the least experienced teachers wind up in the most disadvantaged schools.

A new statistical analysis from a group of researchers at Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research adds a slightly new wrinkle to the research.

As part of its newly launched Strategic Data Project, the center has recently begun putting together statistical profiles of teacher employment patterns in major school districts. The center’s first profile, which was completed last month for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district in North Carolina, echoes much of the earlier research on teacher effectiveness.

But it found something else interesting, too: Teachers who were hired after the start of the school year were less effective, on average, than their colleagues---and not just in that first year on the new job. These teachers continued to be less effective for the next four years. Was it because most of these late hires were novices? Or were they desperate hires made by a principal in a hurry to get a warm body in a classroom?

The Harvard researchers can’t say for sure but the effect on students’ learning was not negligible. The researchers measured that effect by analyzing students’ scores on state math and reading tests and figuring out how their gains and losses over the years compared to how they would have been predicted to achieve—a method that researchers call “value-added” modeling.

They calculated that the average difference in student-achievement between a class taught by a teacher hired late in the year and an average district teacher is equivalent to the difference between being taught in an average-sized kindergarten class and one that has ten fewer students.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg, it turns out, hired 16 percent of elementary and middle school teachers late in the 2008-09 school year. That’s better than in previous years when as many as a quarter of teachers came into schools that way but it’s hard to say how it compares with other large school districts.

So where did the largest proportion of those teachers end up? You guessed it---in the schools with the greatest academic challenges.

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By Valerie Strauss  | April 12, 2010; 4:07 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Bloggers, Research, Teachers  | Tags:  Debra Viadero, Harvard research, research on teachers, teacher effectiveness  
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This makes a lot of sense at a number of levels. Often those hired last were passed over for something indefinable that others saw in the interview. Having seen a teacher in my daughter's school scramble after having been hired late, she has never been able to hit her stride and always seems behind and frustrated. I can see how it would carry forward. It may create a attitude and frustration that is hard to overcome both within oneself and maybe even the coworkers.

Posted by: Brooklander | April 11, 2010 8:16 PM | Report abuse

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