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Upasana Gupta -

A Teacher's Influence on Students

Research shows teachers impact students ability to go to college & earn money

From first-hand experience, I believe that a good teacher can change and positively influence a student's life.  Interestingly, research from faculty members at Harvard and Columbia indicate that elementary and middle school teachers have an impact on whether a student attends college and on their earning potential as an adult.

The research was conducted by three faculty members: Raj Chetty, professor of economics at Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences; Harvard Kennedy School’s John Friedman and Columbia Business School’s Jonah Rockoff. 

The authors of the report looked at data from grades three to eight for 2.5 million children in one of the country’s largest school districts over a 20-year period (1989-2009). The authors used data from two sources: school-district records on students and teachers including- student enrollment history, test scores, and teacher assignments. Secondly, information on the same students and their parents from administrative data sources such as tax records. They also used other public records to track students after high school.

The question now arises: How do we know whether teachers are effective? One method is to evaluate teachers based on
their impact on students’ test scores, commonly termed the “value-added” (VA) approach. A teacher’s value-added is defined as the average test-score gain for his or her students.

Chetty, Friedman, and Rockoff’s research examined the long-term impact of high value-added (HVA) teachers —by comparing how well their students performed on end-of-year tests relative to similar students taught by other teachers. These comparisons took into account students’ test scores in the prior year as well as their race or ethnicity, gender, age, and absences in the previous year, whether they repeated a grade, special education status, and limited English status. Also, while assessing a VA teacher, factors like class size and the academic performance and demographic characteristics of all students in the relevant classroom and school were considered.

In the report, authors have indicated that students assigned to high-VA teachers not only improve their student's test scores, but positively impact them such that they are more likely to attend college, attend higher-quality colleges, earn more, and live in better neighborhoods.

According to the report, for example, if you take a teacher in a single grade (between 4-8 grades) who is on the top 15 percent (VA quality), the teacher's influence then will likely increase a student's lifetime earnings by $1.4 million, as compared to a teacher who is in the bottom 5 percent.

This may sound a little strange. But honestly think about the correlation between high standardized test scores and college admissions. If students are taught to perform well on standardized tests basically introduced in third grade through their entire school period. These students are likely to perform well on their SAT or ACT exams and hold better chances of seeking admission in high ranking colleges. Again, having graduated from a well known school will definitely help these students in landing a good job, thereby positively impacting their earning potential.

I however, do believe that there needs to be consistency in teacher VA quality throughout elementary and middle school for students to get positively influenced in their adult lives. Having one or two high VA teachers in school, in my opinion cannot make much of a difference in a student's future life.

No doubt, there is a lot of room for debate here, but good teachers do create substantial economic value, and VA measures are useful in identifying them.