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A Down-Under Study...Steps Forward or Back?

Andrew Leigh, economist at Australian National University, has released what is claimed to be "the first objective evidence of which teachers are adding value to the academic peformance of their students." You would think that almost any teacher, regardless of quality, would add some value...

For three years, Leigh monitored numeracy and literacy scores of 90,000 primary school students, matched against 10,000 teachers (nice ratio of 9:1). His conclusions will provide fodder for discussion:

  • The top 10 percent of teachers achieve in half a year what the bottom 10 percent achieve in a full year
  • Good teaching--measured by improvement in exam scores--has almost no relationship with teacher experience, qualifications, or other hiring/reward criteria
  • Traits associated with the best teachers are personal drive, curiosity, and ability to relate to students
  • Female teachers are more likely to improve literacy while males are better at teaching "maths"
  • Students in large classes peformed better than those in small classes
  • If indigenous students had teachers from the top quarter of ability rather than the bottom, the black-white test score gap could be closed within seven years
What are your opinions relative to this "groundbreaking" study? I'm suspicious from the start since the study was done by an economist (i.e. looking for the bottom line!).

Source: J. Garnaut's "Best Teachers Get Top Marks From Study," Sydney Morning Herald, May 21, 2007