I want to try something a little bit different with these emails for a few weeks. Instead of sending you a litany of things that I find interesting, I’m going to focus on just one. I have a few links for you at the bottom of the message.
How many times did you have the same teacher more than once? I didn’t have any repeats during elementary school. In middle school I had Mrs. Kopin for a bunch of things, math and English and I want to say also social studies one year. Rabbi Weiss taught me either Jewish Studies or math every single year of high school.
Was that better for me? Is it good to repeat teachers? As a teacher now I have to say that it’s great to repeat students. There are kids that I taught math to when they were in 4th Grade that I teach now as 11th Graders. That’s wonderful for me because (a) it’s fun to watch kids change and grow and (b) they already trust and respect me a little bit.
Anyway, there is evidence relevant to all this. If you have kids repeat teachers on purpose, it’s called “looping.” You can study that. But if you have information about a large enough group of teachers and students, you can also study the happy accidents when a 3rd Grade teacher just so happened to move up to 4th Grade along with her students. And what happens to kids when that happens? In particular, what happens to their test scores?:
In this paper, we assess the impact of repeat student-teacher matches in grades 3 to 5 on academic achievement. Drawing on administrative data from North Carolina, we estimate rich fixed effects models and find that students who are matched to a particular teacher for a second time score higher on standardized end-of-grade tests than they did in their first pairing with the same teacher: student-teacher familiarity improves student achievement.
This is from “A teacher who knows me: The academic benefits of repeat student-teacher matches”, a very economics-y paper that finds evidence that these sort of happy accidents improve students’ test scores. Which is meaningful less because the test scores improved, but because why did they improve? It’s relationships, and relationships are the bread and butter of schooling. So familiarity is a good thing, especially with younger students. The researchers speculate that this might make teacher specialization less effective than you’d other wise think it would be:
These results shed light on the importance of student-teacher relationships in determining academic performance. We use repeat student-teacher matches as a window into the importance of teacher familiarity with students, but there are, of course, many other ways that teachers may have more established relationships or greater familiarity with certain students. For example, teacher specialization in elementary school is likely to reduce student-teacher familiarity, so the results in this paper serve as a caution for policymakers or school administrators implementing this increasingly-popular intervention.
(Interesting nugget: they tried to identify weaker teachers in their dataset and see if repeating with them had the same positive impact. They found it did, but the benefits were smaller.)
The most interesting part of reading this paper was looking at all the sources of bias they controlled for. Couldn’t it be that small schools increase the chances of repeating a teacher, so you’re really looking at the benefits of school size? Or maybe parents ask teachers to move up with their kids if the teacher is great? It’s a fun game, and they show how they control for these things. One possibility that occurred to me is that teachers who repeat are more likely to be teachers who were happy at the school and/or not fired. I can’t tell if they controlled for that.
Anyway, pretty interesting paper I thought, especially as far as economics of education goes.
# In Brief I have a new blog post about what makes a good mathematical explanation (and self-explanation). I was flipping through David Salsburg’s “The Lady Tasting Tea” this week, a book of anecdotes, gossip and history of statistics. Recomended: Charles Yu’s “Interior Chinatown.”. Hell yeah, arty hardcore rockers have new release: “Year of the Horse” Happy Easter, Chag Pesach Sameach!