Evaluating teachers’ impact

Economic Perspective host and retired elementary school teacher Mary Walden says the topic of teachers’ impact is important to her. “We all know teaching and teachers are vitally important to children’s academic success,” she says. “But there’s always been the problem of measuring the impact. What are some of the problems in measuring teacher impact, as well as ways of overcoming these problems?” Her husband, N.C. State University economist Mike Walden, answers.

Well, there are two big problems with measuring teacher impact. One is being able to separate their impact from the impact of other factors that affect how well a child does in school – the impact of the child’s environment and the impact of other kinds factors in their background.

“The second problem is tracking students over time. If you want to see what impact a teacher has had, say, in elementary school, eventually on how well that child does in adulthood, I mean you’re talking about tracking children and people over 20 or 25 years.

“Fortunately, we now have a new study, and it is a gigantic study, that looked at about a million students (and) … tracked them over time. Economists at Harvard did this study, and they published their results in a very prestigious American Economic Review. They came to some very, very, I think, important results.

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