Effective schools

A Harvard University study finds:

Charter schools were developed, in part, to serve as an R&D engine for traditional public schools, resulting in a wide variety of school strategies and outcomes. In this paper, we collect data on the inner-workings of 39 charter schools and correlate these data with credible estimates of each school’s effectiveness. We find that traditionally collected input measures – class size, per pupil expenditure, the fraction of teachers with no certification, and the fraction of teachers with an advanced degree – are not correlated with school effectiveness. In stark contrast, we show that an index of five policies suggested by over forty years of qualitative research – frequent teacher feedback, the use of data to guide instruction, high-dosage tutoring, increased instructional time, and high expectations – explains approximately 45 percent of the variation in school effectiveness. 

Teacher quality and use of data are the most effective.

In our empirical analysis, we find that input measures associated with a traditional resource-based model of – class size, per pupil expenditure, the fraction of teachers with no teaching certification, and the fraction of teachers with an advanced degree – are not correlated with school effectiveness in our sample. Indeed, our data suggest that increasing resource-based inputs may actually lower school effectiveness.

Yet this is what the educational establishment for many years have said is the answer.

Using observational estimates of school effectiveness, we find that schools with more certified teachers have annual math gains that are 0.041 (0.023) standard 2 deviations lower than other schools. Schools with more teachers with a masters degree have annual ELA gains that are 0.032 (0.020) standard deviations lower. An index of class size, per pupil expenditure, the fraction of teachers with no teaching certification, and the fraction of teachers with an advanced degree, explains about 15 percent of the variance in charter school effectiveness, but in the unexpected direction.

So the fact charter schools may have a couple of unregistered teachers is no bad thing, and may even be a good thing.

In stark contrast, an index of five policies suggested by forty years of qualitative case-studies – frequent teacher feedback, data driven instruction, high-dosage tutoring, increased instructional time, and a relentless focus on academic achievement – explains roughly half of the variation in school effectiveness.

Some argue that it is all about the socio-economic rating of the local neigbourhood. This research shows it is not. How schools teach can and does make a difference.

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