Panel Paper: The Effect of Classroom Assignment Policies on Equitable Access to High-Quality Teachers

Saturday, November 10, 2018
Harding - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Andrew Bacher-Hicks and Christopher Avery, Harvard University

Teachers have substantial impacts on the academic and long-run economic outcomes of the students they teach (e.g., Chetty, Friedman, & Rockoff, 2014), yet low performing and minority students do not have equal access to high-quality teachers (e.g., Clotfelter, Ladd, and Vigdor, 2006). While most research exploring this issue focuses on differences in average teacher quality between schools, nearly all of the variation in teacher value-added is within (not between) schools (e.g., Bacher-Hicks et al., 2014; Chetty et al., 2014). As a result, schools’ classroom assignment policies play a large role in the extent to which students have equitable access to high-quality teachers.

In this paper we use six years of student-level administrative records from Kentucky to examine the extent to which within-school student-teacher assignment policies contribute to educational inequality. Using a permutation test, we document more variation across schools in their student-teacher matching than would be expected by chance. That is, more schools persistently match their most effective teachers with their highest achieving students (“assortative matching”) than would be expected if they randomly assigned rosters. Perhaps more surprisingly, we also find that more schools employ the opposite strategy of matching the neediest students to the most effective teachers (“compensatory matching”) than would be expected by chance.

To investigate the extent to which these assignment policies affect student outcomes, we use a student-switcher quasi-experiment. We focus on the heterogeneous effects for high- and low-baseline students who switch into schools that match students to teachers assortatively. While there is generally not a statistically significant effect for high-baseline students, we consistently find negative effects for low-baseline students who switch into schools that match assortatively. For example, students with below average baseline test scores who switch into schools that match assortatively underperform students who switch to other schools by 0.05 standard deviations.

These results suggest that changes to schools’ classroom assignment policies have the potential to improve equal access to high-quality teachers. Compared to other strategies to improve access to high-quality teachers (i.e., by offering large bonuses for high-quality teachers to switch schools), equalizing within-school access to high-quality teachers is a particularly appealing policy as it costs nothing to implement and only relies on the existing labor force within each school.