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Good Teachers Lead to Better Pay For Students


Good teachers have an impact on the future earnings of students, according to a new Ivy League study.

Economists from Harvard and Columbia studied 2.5 million people for over 20 years and concluded that those who had good teachers in elementary and middle school earned more money as adults than peers who did not.

The New York Times reported that the study is the largest to address the controversial “value-added ratings,” which measure the impact individual teachers have on student test scores.

“That test scores help you get more education, and that more education has an earnings effect —that makes sense to a lot of people,” Robert H. Meyer, director of the Value-Added Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who was not involved in this study, told the Times. “This study skips the stages, and shows that differences in teachers mean differences in earnings.”

The study’s findings are less about the difference between good and average teachers, which is modest. Instead, it sheds new light on the difference between bad and average teachers. According to the Times, “replacing a poor teacher with an average one would raise a single classroom’s lifetime earnings by about $266,000, the economists estimate.”

The study has attracted equal parts praise and criticism. It examined a larger number of students over a longer period of time with more in-depth data than many earlier studies, allowing for a deeper look at how much the quality of individual teachers matters over the long term, the Times reported.

Our readers' reaction

EducationWorld mentioned this controversial study on its Facebook page, sparking a lively reader debate. Here are the highlights:

Bridget Kudrle:  "How is this study identifying "strong" and "weak" teachers, on the basis of which they draw their conclusions about future student outcomes? The article says a strong teacher is better than 84% of his/her peers. What does that mean? How do you measure that?"

Roseanna Plant:  "This article is garbage! How can you put a dollar value on students’ futures, and furthermore, narrow that value down to the fourth grade? I'd love to see the actual data that this person claims to have gained through studies. By the time they can measure 'student A' from the fourth grade through post secondary and beyond, education changes so much through initiatives and new policies that right there the data is irrelevant from one year to the next, and of course from one student to the next! How can one possibly tell whether a teacher is average? Or great? Yes, weak teachers tend to stand out for many reasons, but that cannot accurately be measured on a student standardized test."

Alicia Stein Bērziņš:  "It shouldn't surprise teachers that good teachers have a major impact on students’ lives and futures. You say it can't be measured. Maybe not, but as an educator and a mother I want to be the one making that difference for kids, and I want my own kids in the classroom where the teacher is making a difference. If you don't believe this article, it surely should make you think. What if it is true? Then what?"

Danielle Mitchell:  "[The author] had me agreeing with him until the end, when he mentioned merit pay. I don't believe in that. The rest of the article was good. I was a 4th-grade teacher for a couple of years. I appreciated the reference."

Alicia Stein Bērziņš:  "With or without merit pay, this article has important messages for educators to be reflective on. We should ALL want better for the students we teach, and no longer can we just blame parents and the students for a lack of learning. We need to look within, too! Teachers have the ability to make a huge impact on kids’ lives. We've been saying that for years, trying to validate the impact of what we do. Now a piece of research supports it, and we argue it. If this is you, ask yourself why."

Roseanna Plant:  "I’m not arguing that what we do every single day—day in and day out, isn't important. It is so very important and valuable to our entire society. I have taught a variety of grade levels, and I can firmly say that I know I have positively impacted the lives of the students I have taught! It is truly an amazing feeling that makes all the hard work and headaches worth it. I do not disagree with the message about our importance, what I disagree with is the ability to quantitatively measure that impact based solely on a teacher’s performance. I do not feel it is truly valid."

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