Academic journal article Contemporary Economic Policy

Lost in Translation? Teacher Training and Outcomes in High School Economics Classes

Academic journal article Contemporary Economic Policy

Lost in Translation? Teacher Training and Outcomes in High School Economics Classes

Article excerpt

Using data from a 2006 survey of California high school economics classes, we assess the effects of teacher characteristics on student achievement. We estimate value-added models of outcomes on multiple choice and essay exams, with matched classroom pairs for each teacher enabling random-effects and fixed-effects estimation. The results show a substantial impact of specialized teacher experience and college-level coursework in economics. However, the latter is associated with higher scores on the multiple-choice test and lower scores on the essay lest, suggesting that a portion of teachers' content knowledge may be "lost in translation" when conveyed to their students. (JEL A21, 121)

I. INTRODUCTION

Assessing the contribution of teacher quality to student achievement is a key issue in the educational research and policy fields (National Research Council 2010). A central finding from this literature is that the quantitative contribution of teacher quality to student outcomes is large, with substantial gains in student achievement possible in response to systematic improvements in teacher quality (Hanushek 2011). However, research findings regarding the relationship between teacher quality and measurable characteristics such as training and experience have been mixed, with little support found for systematic, consistent contributions of identifiable contributors to teacher preparation (Aaronson, Barrow, and Sander 2007; Clotfelter, Ladd, and Vigdor 2010; Hanushek and Rivkin 2010; Harris and Sass 2011; Rivkin, Hanushek, and Kain 2005; Rockoff 2004). This failure to identify systematic contributions of observable teacher characteristics may reflect imperfect identification of relevant teacher skills and the specific settings in which they make a difference.

In this article, we contribute to the literature on teacher quality and student outcomes by investigating the impact of teacher characteristics on students' success in high school economics classes. Much of the voluminous literature on educational outcomes focuses on students in primary school. In contrast, we focus on subject matter education at the high school level, for which teachers' specialized educational background and experience may play a larger role than it does in primary school settings. We distinguish between teachers' specific training and teaching experience in the economics field and their general training, including postgraduate degrees (primarily in the education field). Our breakdown between categories of teacher skills follows the distinction in the education literature between "content knowledge," which focuses on a teacher's understanding of the specific subject being taught, and "pedagogical content knowledge," which refers to a broader understanding of how learners acquire knowledge in that subject (Ball. Thames, and Phelps 2008; National Research Council 2010; Shulman 1986). This literature provides an informative backdrop for the interpretation of our results.

Our data are from a special survey of California high school economics teachers conducted in 2006. The survey produced value-added outcome data, which includes test scores before and after a limited instructional window, for nearly 1,000 students in 48 matched-pair classes taught by 24 teachers. These data were first used by Lopus and Hoff (2009), who examined the contribution of specialized instructional materials to student learning. In this article. we have expanded the analysis to address the broader question of how teacher characteristics affect the learning process, and how the contribution of teacher characteristics compares with the contribution of student characteristics. These questions were not addressed in the earlier paper by Lopus and Hoff. In addition. relative to that paper, we more fully exploit the study's experimental design by employing an econometric approach that enables us to explicitly account for observed and unobserved teacher effects using fixed-effects and random-effects estimation. …

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