Teacher quality matters, enormously. Dr. William Sanders, the leading researcher in the field of value-added assessment, explains, "Race, socioeconomic level, class size, and classroom heterogeneity are poor predictors of student academic growth. Rather, the effectiveness of the teacher is the major determinant of student academic progress."
In other words, some teachers really do make all the difference. Dr. Sanders finds evidence that racial achievement gaps are strongly influenced by the distribution of effective teachers, writing, "African American students and white students with the same level of prior achievement make comparable academic progress when they are assigned to teachers of comparable effectiveness. However, at least in the system studied, black students were disproportionately assigned to the least effective teachers."
Believe it or not, these findings are actually cause for optimism. If they stand the test of time, it will provide further proof that there is nothing inevitable about achievement gaps, just something terribly wrong with the distribution of effective teachers.
One way to address this issue is to increase the number of effective teachers in the system. And one key way to attract more effective teachers is to pay them according to their productivity. If highly effective teachers had the opportunity to make six figures, you can bet more top students would enter the field.
Matthew Ladner, PhD, is the Goldwater Institute vice president for research.
-William L. Sanders and June C. Rivers, "Cumulative and Residual Effects of Teachers on Future Academic Achievement"
-Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development: "Attracting, Developing and Retaining Effective Teachers"
-Goldwater Institute: Six Figures