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Study: Experienced US teachers may not be any better than new ones

Image Credit: Flicker Brad (Flickr) (CC BY 2.0)

Image Credit: Flicker Brad (Flickr) (CC BY 2.0)

Will the coming wave of retirements among Baby Boomer teachers hurt K-12 education? A new paper suggests it will not — and even raises the option that low-performing schools may be able to lower costs without damaging student outcomes through early retirement programs. (In the US, the mean salary of a teacher with less than 5 years of experience is $32,000, while the mean salary for one with more than 30 years of experience is $49,000). Early Retirement Incentives and Student Achievement by Cornell’s Maria Fitzpatrick and Michael Lovenheim:

This paper presents the first evidence in the literature on the effects of teacher retirement in response to early retirement incentives on student achievement. We use an exogenous increase in the incentive to retire among Illinois public school teachers in 1994 and 1995 that induced large numbers of teachers to retire. Using the fact that schools that had more experienced teachers prior to the implementation of the program were more affected by it, we use a difference-difference framework to determine the effects of the ERI on student achievement.

Although we show that the ERI program led to a large amount of retirement by experienced teachers, which consequently lowered teacher experience levels, we find the program did not reduce test scores and instead led to increased student achievement in most cases. Our estimates are sufficiently precise to rule out even small negative effects of the program on math and English scores. We also show suggestive evidence that the ERI program had larger positive effects in more disadvantaged schools. …

To the extent that the Illinois experience is generalizable to the rest of the United States, our results thus point to the potential to reduce district costs without harming student achievement by offering teachers incentives to retire early. This type of policy may be particularly effective in the lowest-performing and lowest-SES schools.

Now pair these results along with the success of the Teach for America program. Together, they would seem an indictment of how we train teachers across the career spectrum, from teaching colleges to professional development.

10 thoughts on “Study: Experienced US teachers may not be any better than new ones

  1. and the moon may be made of cheese.
    As a teacher who just retired after 26 years of teaching, I disagree. I mostly taught algebra. Yes, I had some novel ideas and a lot of enthusiasm when I started but it was near the end that I figured out the RIGHT way to teach algebra, after seeing how the regular way (with the texts that I detest) didn’t work and I thus wrote my own algebra book. To be brief, math should be taught with a graphical emphasis but books don’t do that (except for mine) and it took 20 years for me to figure that out.

    • With what part of the study did you find fault? The fact that it doesn’t reflect your personal experience doesn’t necessarily invalidate their findings.

  2. it depends on the teacher and what she/he teaches.

    For instance, if they are a reading specialist in K-3 dealing for core competencies – then experience counts a lot.

    the danger in these kinds of studies is that they treat all teaching competencies and subjects the same.

    Someone who teaches photo journalism in the 10th grade is not the same as an elementary teacher teaching core academic math in the 2nd grade.

    experience matters a lot in the early grades for core academic subjects and especially so for kids that are at risk and/or not on grade level.

    we continue to deal with issues like this on a sound bite basis.

    • “the danger in these kinds of studies is that they treat all teaching competencies and subjects the same.”

      Isn’t that the way the teachers are treated in their union contracts? A math teacher with an MA and 6 years of experience = same status/pay as a phys ed teacher with an MA and 6 years of experience.

      • re: personal experience and unions.

        the former, yes… without getting into personal things, the skill and experience of early elementary teachers makes a huge difference depending on the kid and his/her needs.

        Kids that fall behind in elementary grades and don’t get remediation are often doomed later.

        Knowing how to diagnose the particular deficits and how to deal with them is not for neophytes.

        In terms of unions – there are a number of states that are essentially right-to-work states but not all teachers are classified simply as “teachers” although I will admit this is a weakness of the current classification systems.

        A 1st grade teacher is, in theory, supposed to be able to teach other grades but in modern settings… each grade has benchmarks for grade level achievement and each level has distinct aspects of curricula and student ability.

        some schools informally deal with these distinctions while others – bad schools – just ignore them.

        Anyone who thinks a kid out of college is going to helicopter into 1st grade and just “teach” is living in LA LA Land. Each and every kid has a unique profile that only an experience person can discern – diagnose – and develop a learning plan for that specific kid.

        Teaching is a sophisticated job discipline these days – at least in the early elementary grades.

        • That’s not what the unions say. They say any teacher is equivalent to another with the same tenure and educational credentials.

          • re: not what the unions say. also not what the job classification policies are in non-union states also.

            it’s not a union-unique issue but the theory is that a teacher is a teacher is a teacher and everyone including the public believes this and it’s as dumb as thinking a doctor is a doctor is a doctor or similar.

            re: productivity when you get older

            perhaps but how about this? a doctor who has taken 4 years of school and now does heart transplants right out of school?

            Anyone who thinks teacher is something that any college grad can do – these days – especially in the early elementary grades is …well…they’re ignorant…

  3. It is unsurprising that at some point longevity in a career does not result in improved performance. And, obviously, working 30 years in a field likely means some sort of decline in performance over the later part of the career. People run out of energy, quit learning new things, etc. That is simply a huge challenge whether in teaching or any other career.

    I went to a conference at Emory recently that focused on the use of information and the advance of technology. The topic of “careers” came up and the consensus of the group was that a college grad today might have as many as 10 distinctly different jobs in their lifetime. That is considerably different than 20 years ago. The world is changing and teaching will change. We are rooted in a society that increases pay for longevity over performance, and that will probably change as well. I think I’m on my 6th distinct job, and all I can say is that these last few changes have not resulted in an ever climbing salary. It just seems like the market can re-price skills more easily these days and new entrants in the job market can and probably should displace incumbents.

  4. do you know how changing of the guard occurs in many elementary grades?

    It’s called mentoring and newbies are taken under the wing of the experienced teachers for the first few years until they can fully function.

    the best elementary teachers do work-study from college, 2 days of classroom experience per week – called a practicum.

    there are misconceptions aplenty for schools.

    class size is not very important for something like photo journalism or hygiene in high school but in early elementary school – not only class size but class diversity is critical.

    it’s so critical that many schools now do fairly extensive pre-assessments of children to calibrate their learning styles, IQs and basic logic and language.

    I can assure you its not for neophytes.

    This is the kind of thing you do not have in “bad” schools and it’s not a bad teacher thing, it’s the school administration itself and part of the problem is that in the poorer school districts, there are so many kids who are so far behind with so many deficits that good teachers out of college, who have a choice, will go to the schools where the job is not near such a difficult challenge – at least until they really start to understand the job.

    Older teachers don’t get incompetent – they get worn out. Every year the grind starts all over with the same enormous challenges with brand new kids, many who need, essentially, one-on-one time to deal with some of their issues.

    One of the biggest problems schools have in this country is ignorance of the public in the diversity and difficulty of education in our modern society where in our culture, kids run the gamut from those who are at 3rd grade level in the first grade and their parents want them to zoom ahead while other kids in 1st grade are barely at kindergarten level and then there are always 2 or 3 kids who have as-yet undiagnosed issues like attention-deficit that disrupts the entire class while the teacher tries to get things under control enough to get back to teaching all the kids.

    this is not a “union” problem, I can assure you.

    the problem we have is that we now live in a blame-game world – a sound-bite world – and a world of ignorance about the issues themselves.

    and what we are doing – is we are essentially degrading and destroying the very essence of our education system – from outside – from people who basically are ignorant and destructive of the institution – who don’t really want to fix or reform it – but burn it down and start over with “privatized” , for-profit schools, except we don’t want to hold them to the same performance standards because we think those standards are part of the problem.

    so you’ve got a bunch of folks who don’t know the first thing about education – clamoring for changes to the institution… and unless we step back and get smarter about it.. it will further damage it – not help it.

    • “Older teachers don’t get incompetent – they get worn out.”

      Oh, bullshit. There are scores of incompetent teachers out there like any other field. If they can’t handle the load then they should be fired.

      “Every year the grind starts all over with the same enormous challenges with brand new kids, many who need, essentially, one-on-one time to deal with some of their issues.”

      Oh noes!! So what? It’s called “working.” There’s a reason they get a paycheck. How long do you think this whiny song-and-dance flies in the real world where it’s not almost impossible to fire somebody?

      “the problem we have is that we now live in a blame-game world – a sound-bite world –”

      And you just parrot the union excuse lines but pretend it’s all something else. “Blame game” is one way of putting it. “Holding people accountable” would be a much more honest assessment.

      “…who don’t really want to fix or reform it”

      You characterize thusly, and then you whine about the “blame game.”

      “– but burn it down and start over with “privatized” , for-profit schools, ”

      Yeah, schools where the “blame game” can be utilized as it is in the real, non-union thug world where people produce or they get the steel-toe to the curb.

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