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What Studies Say About the Effectiveness of Teachers

Back to Skills

As policymakers and school leaders seek new ways to measure and improve teacher effectiveness, it’s important for journalists and others to understand what is known about the topic so far, and what remains unsettled or unknown. This research brief does not synthesize all the studies in this highly technical field. But it does aim to improve the accuracy and clarity of reporting by exploring what the research says about timely questions surrounding the complex topic of teacher effectiveness.

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The brief is organized around several prevailing questions about teacher effectiveness in K-12 education. For each question, we’ve reviewed some of the most-important research, identifying key findings and tension points. (Citations in the text refer to a list of sources in the bibliography.) At the end of each section, we present a bottom-line summary of the research.

Nearly all of the studies cited here rely on the use of student test scores as a proxy for learning, a research practice that remains hotly debated. A full discussion of the value of standardized testing lies outside the scope of this paper, but we begin from the same assumption as many scholars: that standardized tests measure important aspects of student learning, but not the full breadth and depth of what students should know and be able to do.

The brief draws on a review of over 40 specific research studies or research syntheses, as well as interviews with scholars who have used primarily quantitative research methods to analyze the relationships between teachers, their attributes, and student achievement. It was written by EWA member Stephen Sawchuk, who reports on teacher quality and the teaching profession for Education Week, an independent national news organization based in Bethesda, Md.

This brief was made possible in part by support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.