Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Seeking Exceptional Teacher Preparation Programs Among Many Noisy Estimates: The Danger of Being Fooled By Randomness

Thursday, November 12, 2015 : 1:45 PM
Flamingo (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Paul T. von Hippel1, Cynthia Osborne2, Jane Arnold Lincove1, Nicholas Mills1 and Laura Bellows3, (1)University of Texas, Austin, (2)University of Texas at Austin, (3)University of Texas
Sixteen states have taken steps to hold teacher preparation programs (TPPs) accountable for their effects on K-12 test scores, yet TPP effects are very challenging to interpret and use in a policy context. We demonstrate several statistical techniques, some of them new, for estimating the effects on K-12 test scores of the approximately 100 TPPs in Texas. The results present several challenges to using the estimates in policy.

First, the true differences between TPPs—the policy signal—are small; a one standard deviation increase in TPP quality predicts just a .01 to .03 standard deviation increase in student scores. Second, even in a Texas-sized sample, TPP estimates consist primarily of noise, which if mistaken for signal can lead to unnecessary, disruptive, and ineffective policy actions, such as closing an average TPP because its noisy estimate makes it appear much worse than it is. Third, when comparing 100 different TPPs (or even 10), the dangers of multiple comparisons can lead us to infer significant differences between TPPs where no true differences exist—which again can lead to needlessly disruptive interventions.

After adjusting our estimates for multiple comparisons and noise, we find that we usually cannot identify with confidence which TPPs are better or worse than average. We do identify one TPP that appears to be inferior, but its effect is so close to average that closing it would have an unnoticeable effect on student test scores. The potential benefits of TPP accountability programs may be too small to balance the risk that they will promote needlessly disruptive policy actions.