Good teachers don’t just teach their material well; they elevate the benefits their students will take from education from all of their other teachers, and for years to come, by teaching them more effective ways to learn and retain. And now new research from the University of Washington College of Education implies that they’ll also improve the performance of their fellow teachers.
“Student learning is not a function of just one teacher but of the combined effort of many teachers,” said Min Sun, leader of the study presented to the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management.
In other word, one A+ teacher in a pool of B- teachers can elevate them all to a solid A. This highlights the importance of oversight to make sure that even the worst-performing schools get their choice of teachers, not just the inexperienced, ill-adapted, or burnt-out.
Sun’s research was about putting this effect down into hard numbers. She and her colleagues looked at decades of data for math teachers in grades 3-8, mostly from standardized test scores. The calculation is complicated, but the finding is that every student in a school with a single high-performing teacher benefits, not only the students in their class. And those benefits don’t stop at grades – the likelihood of college attendance and the predictable future lifetime earnings both increase.
In 2014, the Department of Education put a call out for Teacher Equity Strategies in all 50 states to help fight the tendency of schools with a majority population of minority or low-income families to have low-performing teachers. This study’s specific intent is to provide data for a foundation for those strategies and to impress their importance on skeptics. When asked for a strategy herself, Sun proposed pairing ineffective teachers with better colleagues on a long-term basis.
Sun’s research is continuing, but the results are already pretty clear: Even one better teacher can elevate a school.