Matching teachers and schools

Are effective teachers always effective no matter which school they teach at? This central question is addressed as research on educators’ “match quality” is offered. Find out what the research shows on the importance of matching teachers with appropriate school conditions to maximize their effectiveness.

Over at the Public School Insights blog Claus von Zastrow hammers on a policy issue that few teaching effectiveness reformers seem to get. He raises the question, “Are good teachers always good, no matter where they go?”

Ironically, some of the same analysts who lament that teachers are treated as “widgets” promote the misdirected policy bromide that teachers have the “same value” no matter where they teach. A new generation of labor economists studying human capital issues in education (who have yet to be recognized by mainstream media) are pointing out that the “match” between teacher and school matter a great deal for student achievement. I highlighted Kirabo Jackson’s research on “match quality” in my last blog post, but it is worth repeating.

Jackson set out to: (1) determine the extent to which teacher’s effectiveness, as measured by ability to improve their students’ test scores, changes depending on the schooling environment, (2) quantify the importance of the match between a teacher and a school in determining student achievement, (3) document the relationship between match quality and teacher mobility, and (4) present evidence on what teacher and school characteristics are associated with high match quality.

He found that teachers who are effective in one school will not necessarily be effective in another—and that varying school conditions may account for 25 percent of teacher effects on student learning. Jackson used a longitudinal database to estimate teachers’ value-added to student test scores before and after a move between schools. The quality of the teacher-school match explains about 7% of school effects in math, and 30% in reading. Match strength is also highly predictive of teacher retention, a finding that is also robust to inclusion of teacher and school fixed effects.

Thinking about the importance of good matches, my Teacher Leaders Network colleague David Cohen (in a response to Claus’ blog) suggests that we “Consider as an analogy sports where coaches win league championships with one team and then move to the next job and struggle.”

I wonder why it is so difficult for some reformers to acknowledge this extraordinarily important teaching effectiveness policy issue. Could it be that they might have to own up to the fact that teachers are not always the problem — that it’s the dysfunctional system of teacher development we need to be fixing?