Panel Paper: What Types of Teachers Improve Students' Character Skills?

Thursday, November 6, 2014 : 10:55 AM
Aztec (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Seth Gershenson1, Katie Vinopal1 and Michael S. Hayes2, (1)American University, (2)Rutgers University, Camden
Providing high-quality teachers to all students must play a prominent role in closing achievement gaps between students of different demographic and socioeconomic backgrounds and in improving the quality of public education more generally. However, nearly all research on teacher quality has focused on the predictors and size of teachers’ effects on student test scores. The focus on test scores potentially biases estimates of teacher effectiveness by ignoring teachers’ effects on the development of character skills.

This omission is troubling, as character skills such as persistence, attendance, study habits, motivation, and self control are associated with long-run socioeconomic success and policies that incentivize schools and teachers to increase student test scores likely displace classroom activities that develop such character skills. One way that schools can create opportunities for upward social mobility and improve the long-run outcomes that we ultimately care about is to teach character skills in addition to the academic skills that comprise the traditional focus of public education. However, incentivizing and enabling schools to develop students’ character skills requires knowledge of the educational inputs (e.g., types of teachers) that effectively improve such skills. Moreover, identifying the characteristics of effective teachers is important to a variety of stakeholders and has implications for decisions regarding teacher compensation, recruitment, and tenure; the assignment of teachers to specific schools, classrooms, and students; and the content of pre-service teacher training and professional development programs.

The proposed project will contribute to the literature on teacher effectiveness by examining the causal relationship between a variety of observable teacher qualifications and students’ character skills, which is no less important than identifying the types of teachers who improve student test scores. We identify these relationships by estimating value-added models that take measures of character skills as outcomes of the educational process and condition on school fixed effects and a rich set of student and school covariates using two complementary datasets: the nationally representative Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K) survey and longitudinal administrative data on all third- through fifth-grade teachers and students in North Carolina’s public schools.

The observed teacher qualifications we consider include experience, selectivity of undergraduate institution, college major, National Board Certification, licensure status, Praxis test scores, and the instructional strategies employed by teachers. The observed student character skills and related behaviors we consider include attendance, grade promotion, non-school reading and studying time, suspensions, detentions, and both parent- and teacher-reported measures of children’s approaches to learning (e.g., persistence, concentration, and responsibility), self control (e.g., frequency with which child fights, argues, and gets angry), social interactions (e.g., ability to get along with others), and impulsivity. In addition to examining the relationships between these teacher qualifications and student character skills, we also compare these relationships to corresponding relationships between the same teacher qualifications and student test scores and test for heterogeneity by student, teacher, and school type in the relationship between observed teacher qualifications and students’ character skills.