Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Adding academic value now; improving quality of life later

Time to catch up on some articles I missed over the last few weeks. First, there's the much-reported-upon NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research) working paper entitled "The Long-Term Impacts of Teachers: Teacher Value-Added and Student Outcomes in Adulthood". Here, researchers Raj Chetty (Harvard Economics Department), John N. Friedman (Harvard Public Policy Department), and Jonah E. Rockoff (Columbia Business School) find evidence that teachers who improve their student test scores the most in the short run also improve these students' more general life circumstances in the long term.

Defining a teacher's "value added" as:

The average test-score gain for his or her students, adjusted for differences across classrooms in student characteristics (such as their previous scores). 
They note that:
When a high value-added (top 5%) teacher enters a school, end-of-school-year test scores in the grade he or she teaches rise immediately...  
And that:
Students assigned to such high value-added teachers are more likely to go to college, earn higher incomes, and less likely to be teenage mothers. On average, having such a teacher for one year raises a child's total lifetime income by $9,000.
Significantly, none of the authors is a professor of education. What will the education establishment make of their results? Perhaps it will simply ignore them. Perhaps it will counter that test scores and salaries aren't meaningful measures of learning and well-being. Perhaps it will dismiss the article as an as-yet-un-peer-reviewed working paper. Or perhaps it will reverse the article's causal (short term -> long term) connections, fuzz-up the variables, and thereby concoct yet more reasons for refrains like "To Boost Learning, Start With Emotional Health".

What it won't do, I predict, is consider the possibilities that academic achievement can foster emotional well-being, that test scores might correlate with general success in life, and that schools should seek to fill as many teaching slots as possible with those who raise test scores the most.

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