economics

Teacher Value Added Ratings

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A year ago, the LA Times published a ranking of over 5 thousand third through fifth grade teachers based on their value added scores.  If you are not familiar with Value Added Ratings, they are a statistical technique that measures how much a teacher’s students improve on a standardized test over the year the teacher works with those students.  These ratings are very controversial, especially as a means to evaluate teachers.  To a parent reading these rankings in the LA Times, they seem like a say all end all evaluation of their child’s teacher, prompting calls to change classes and fire teachers.  In May the LA Times released value-added ratings for over eleven thousand more teachers without addressing the intricacies of the data.

Last winter, I analyzed Value-Added Ratings, specifically as a way of evaluating teachers.  Here is a link to my paper (see pages 3-6 for a literature review on the subject and p. 6-8 for a look at the economic model, while p. 9-17 are a critique of the method).

Here is a summary of that paper:

Economists and educational researchers studying student achievement return consistent results about teachers: they matter. While researchers agree that educational achievement depends on a quality teacher, disagreement among both economists and educational researchers occurs when considering what constitutes teacher quality.  Clearly, one of a teacher’s specific duties is to improve student performance and value added statistical methods do measure student progress, but the issue arises when that progress or lack of progress is considered completely the effect of the teacher.

This paper concludes that if school administrators only evaluate teachers on student progress, then they may not be measuring the teacher’s total value to students.  The review shows that many factors, both observed and unobserved, can affect student achievement and that teachers have the ability to impact their students in ways that standardized tests cannot measure.

In a 2008 New Yorker essay, Malcolm Gladwell compared hiring a new teacher to drafting an NFL quarterback.  In both professions observable characteristics do not translate to production, whether on the field or in the classroom.  In the NFL, coaches can examine statistics that their quarterback directly controls and that are easily observed: completions, yards, and touchdowns, but observations from college games do not translate to NFL success.  Meanwhile, school administrators only evaluate teachers on observable characteristics such as experience, highest degree, undergraduate university attended, and in a recent number of cases Value Added Ratings. 

Just as a quarterback’s college statistics do not directly indicate NFL performance, easily measured or observable characteristics of teachers are not always correlated with student success.  Value added scores vary significantly from year to year and only measure student improvement on standardized tests, not necessarily learning.  If, over a ten or fifteen year period a teacher’s Value added score was consistently higher or lower than average, then the scores can tell nus something about the teacher.  But looking at one score from one year and publishing that as an all encompassing value of a teacher is unfair.

Many factors, both observed and unobserved, can affect student achievement; teachers have the ability and responsibility to impact their students in ways that standardized tests cannot measure.  If school administrators only evaluate teachers on student progress on a standardized test, then they are not necessarily measuring the teacher’s total value added to their students.

A Conclusion to the Wrong Debate?

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While it seems that a deal is in place to raise the debt ceiling so that our country can pay its bills, we are missing the real problem facing our country: ECONOMIC GROWTH.  The debate and ultimate compromise only focuses on a symptom and ignores the real problem that our country is not growing and shows no significant indicators that it will change its course.

If the United States grew its GDP by 1% more over the next 3 years (than current projections), we would not have to worry about our spending on Social Security or other entitlement programs.  Significant economic growth combined with a decrease in our presence and subsequent funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would allow our country to pay for our commitments (social security, etc.) and a new stimulus (to improve our infrastructure, increase our human capital, and promote employment).

Stabilizing our economy for long-term growth should be our main concern.  The first step is always to acknowledge the problem and I have not heard our politicians in Washington or any of the 2012 candidates recognize that our main concern should be economic growth, not symptoms such as debt, health care, taxes, or entitlement programs.  Once our fiscal house is in order, solutions to our symptoms will fall into place.

Does it pay to go to College?

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This weekend, the New York Times included a section called “Education Life,” which featured some discussion of the purpose, role, and value of grad school.  One of their “Most Emailed” articles is titled “Master’s as the New Bachelor’s” by Laura Pappano. I wanted to share a few comments given some research I had done on the subject and I also thought this was appropriate given the article I shared at the right in the “Article I’m Reading” section of my blog: Louis Menand’s New Yorker Piece Debating the Value of College.

These articles consist almost entirely of anecdotal evidence.  I am unaware of an empirical analysis, but last year, I presented a paper by Dominic Brewer, et al. titled “Does it Pay to Attend an Elite Private College.”  The paper considered the different economic returns of different types of colleges (private, public, small, and big).  The punch line is:Yes, an Elite Private College has significantly more economic return than other colleges.  BUT, the paper considered data from the seventies and eighties.  This study needs to be reproduced given the vastly different college environment almost thirty years after the data was collected (the paper is from 1998).

Specifically, with the explosion of tuition, is an elite private undergraduate education worth the money.  Also, with such a high proportion of high school graduates going on to college, is the elite undergraduate degree worth the same, or more depending on graduate school experiences?  Also, thirty years ago students chose their college, while over the past few decades, colleges have much more control over who is admitted.  Finally, since the recession and (hopefully?) post-recession, are labor market returns any different given workers’ educational background?

So, is an undergraduate degree “worth” the skyrocketing cost?  I would agree with the paper I cited earlier by Brewer, et al. that only elite private colleges garner a return worth the significant tuition differences to large public universities.  That being said, according to Ms. Pappano’s NYT article and Menand’s “First Theory” , maybe undergraduate degrees will not provide the signal that we prescribe to them.  Is acquiring a Master’s or other graduate degree just the new sorting mechanism for potential employers?