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Higher Academic Standing Seen Among Recent New York Teacher Hires

New York is increasingly drawing more academically capable teachers, reflecting improvements in the status of the teaching profession, concludes recently released research on the state's teaching force.

The improvements in teacher quality could also be a reflection of policy changes begun in 1998 to embrace alternative certification and to disallow emergency licenses, the research surmises. 

"The reversal of the trends in academic ability over the last decade signals a resurgence of interest in teaching in public schools as a respected and worthy career and the rising status of the teaching profession," its authors write.

The study, by Hamilton Lankford (University of Albany), Susanna Loeb (Stanford University), Andrew McEachin (North Carolina State University), Luke C. Miller, and James Wyckoff (both of the University of Virginia), was published in the December edition of Educational Researcher.

For the study, the researchers examined the math and reading SAT scores of individuals who were hired to teach, from the 1985-86 through 2007-08 academic years. These were compared against all SAT takers in public schools in New York over a similar time period. 

Overall, the research found that the academic abilities of those entering teaching declined in 1986 to 1999, but turned around rapidly after that: Teachers hired in 2010 have SAT scores 27 percent of a standard deviation higher than they did in 1999.

What's more, these gains were seen largely because the percent of teachers drawn from the upper third of the score distribution increased dramatically, by more than 13 percentage points, making up more than 40 percent of entering teachers by 2010. Similarly, the percent of teachers drawn from the bottom third of the distribution fell by 7 percentage points, and made up less than 20 percent of entering teachers by 2010. Teachers also increasingly came from selective colleges during this time period.

Much ink has been spilled over U.S. teachers not being recruited from among the top talent. The report's findings suggest that phenomenon could be on its way out in the Empire State.

The gains were even more pronounced in New York CI=ity, by far the largest district in the state (see chart, below). Notice the crisscrossing trend lines of the upper- and lower-tier teachers.

Snip20141207_4.png

Outside of the city, the gains are somewhat more modest and generally don't begin until 2004.

Importantly, the gains were seen in all schools, from those serving mostly wealthy students to those with many needy students. 

"There is a striking reduction in the teacher academic ability gap between schools with more and fewer poor students, so that between 2007 and 2010, it is 27 percent smaller than what it was between 1986 and 1989," the researchers write.

Although it's not possible given the data to come up with a causal explanation for the improvements, the paper hypothesizes that the state's efforts to eliminate emergency certification and establish alternative-certification programs that tend to attract mid-career changers might have been factors. The No Child Left Behind Act's "highly qualified" teacher requirements, with their focus on teachers demonstrating content knowledge, might have played a role too, it says. 

The research seems to reflect another study that found similar, if less dramatic, gains among the teaching force nationwide.

UPDATED: A previous version of this post omitted Luke C. Miller from the list of authors.

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