C. Kirabo Jackson
National Bureau of Economic Research
May 2010

Would an effective teacher at school X be just as effective at school Y? Maybe not, says Cornell labor economist Kirabo Jackson. He examined linked student-teacher and school-level data from 1995 to 2006 in North Carolina to determine whether teacher effectiveness (as measured by student performance) changed depending on school environment. After controlling for a host of variables (including whether teachers simply moved to a school with better outcomes), he found that how well a teacher jives with the school environment (what he calls “match” quality) is as important in determining student achievement as teacher quality. In fact, about a quarter of what we now attribute to teacher quality should really be attributed to how well the teacher “matches” their school environment. A good “match” could mean that a teacher is more effective teaching low-income than affluent students, or using direct instruction than inquiry learning, or in a high-accountability than low-accountability school culture, for example. The effects in math are pronounced—namely that teachers tend to be more effective in that subject after they change schools (presumably to one that is a better match)—while there was no difference in reading. He also studied the types of schools and teachers with “high match quality.” Teachers with more experience have higher match quality in both math and reading, suggesting that it is the match not the experience that may produce higher student outcomes. With so much debate over teacher assignment between low and high poverty schools, we’re hoping for an answer to the next logical question: Which teacher-school pairings are the most conducive to raising student achievement? You can find the intriguing study here (for a small fee).

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