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Study Finds Few Links Between Teacher Characteristics, Performance

Qualifications such as certification and holding a master's degree bear no relationship to a teacher's performance as measured by growth in student test scores, concludes a new brief released by the Manhattan Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank.

The brief summarizes a study conducted by senior fellow Marcus Winters and two colleagues, which is slotted for publication in the Economics of Education Review. For the study, the researchers looked at four years of longitudinal data from Florida that link elementary teachers' training and student learning gains. They found no correlations between any of the teacher characteristics studied and student learning, with the exception of small benefits for teachers who engaged in certain pedagogy courses.

The finding on experience is probably the most interesting, as many other studies using panel data of this type find that experience does make a difference in the first few years of teaching. And on master's degrees, studies have linked higher achievement with teachers who hold content-specific degrees in math and science, though those studies didn't always correct for students' prior achievement histories. For more, see a summary I wrote not long ago for the Education Writers' Association.

The authors of the brief assert, not surprisingly, that this should be a wake-up call to change the current modes of teacher pay. It can also be read, however, as yet another reason to take a close look at teachers' preparation and professional development.

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