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Study Identifies Positive 'Peer Effects' in Teaching

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Studies in economics have long noted that highly productive workers seem to produce a "spillover" effect in their peers. Supermarket checkers, for instance, work faster when they're in the line of sight of a more productive co-worker, and berry-pickers tend to calibrate their work speed to that of friends laboring nearby.

In today's Web edition of EdWeek, I have a story on a study that documents these effects for the first time in teachers. (At least that's what the researchers tell me.) Using 11 years of data on North Carolina elementary schoolers, C. Kirabo Jackson and Elias Bruegmann find that teachers in the same grade apparently step up their performance when a more-effective teacher joins the staff. As a result, levels of student achievement rise for the entire grade of students.

The effects aren't huge, experts say, but they carry some serious implications for the way in which schools structure merit-pay programs for teachers. If teachers are already working together and learning from one another in constructive ways, introducing a pay plan that rewards individual teachers could turn colleagues into competitors. Offering bonuses at the school level, on the other hand, could conceivably enhance that team spirit.

If research on teachers is your thing, you might also want to check out my colleague Stephen Sawchuk's report yesterday on second-year findings from an ongoing Mathematica Policy Research study on comprehensive teacher-induction programs in 17 states. The bottom line from this rigorous, federally funded study is that, compared to business as usual, the programs aren't yet translating to any improvements in teacher-retention rates or student achievement.

Could that be because veteran teachers are already helping the rookies out?

2 Comments

Great article, as always Debra.

One challenge to your proscription, though. I don't know that merit pay or other pay incentives for achieving metrics would do anything at all. Research has shown for some time that in results-oriented jobs (vs. highly structured jobs) pay incentives don't work.

Here's a great TED presentation by former speechwriter Dan Pink on this idea, food for more thought and discussion:

http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation.html

Thx-RJ

Very interesting presentation, RJ. I enjoyed the "candle problem."

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  • Debbie: Very interesting presentation, RJ. I enjoyed the "candle problem." read more
  • Rohn Jay Miller: Great article, as always Debra. One challenge to your proscription, read more