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An Endless Summer: How COVID Has Reversed Academic Achievement

How can we retain more effective teachers?

The majority of our teachers are hardworking and effective. Previous studies point clearly to the key imperative of eliminating the drag of the bottom-ranked teachers. Here we can offer several alternatives.

One approach might be better recruitment, so that ineffective or poor teachers do not make it into our schools. Or, relatedly, we could improve the training in schools of education so that the average teaching recruit is better than the typical recruit of today. Unfortunately, we have relatively few successful experiences with either approach as compared to considerable wishful thinking, particularly among school personnel.

An alternative might be to change a poor teacher into an average teacher. This approach is in fact today’s dominant strategy. Schools hope that through mentoring of incoming teachers, professional development, or completion of further graduate schooling, ineffective teachers can be transformed into acceptable (average) teachers. 

Again, however, the existing evidence is not very reassuring. While such efforts undoubtedly help some teachers, there is no substantial evidence that certification, in-service training, master’s degrees, or mentoring programs systematically make a difference in whether teachers are in fact effective at driving student achievement.

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What’s the economic impact of improving student performance?

If all states improved their schools to match performance levels in the top state (Minnesota), the overall gains would be $76 trillion over an eighty-year period. If each state lifted its student performance to that of the highest-performing state in its region, the economic gains would be $36 trillion over the same time period. Overall, America can reap economic gain from improving its schools.

Should we evaluate teacher performance?

Yes. We should consider tying teacher compensation to productivity as measured by students’ performance or supervisor evaluation. However, we should never focus exclusively on teacher evaluations without also including administrator evaluations. It is essential to evaluate administrators, because they have a significant impact on students’ outcomes that cannot be ignored. Ineffective administrators, like ineffective teachers, can reduce learning of students.

What is the basic argument for more widespread education in America?

The acquisition of basic skills in reading and especially in mathematics in elementary and secondary school enhances a student’s long-term economic prospects. Countries that educate students to higher levels of achievement enjoys higher levels of economic productivity and more rapid rates of economic growth. The United States produces a lower percentage of students who are reaching proficiency in math than thirty-one other countries in the industrialized world. The United States isn’t bringing as large a percentage of its students to the advanced level as twenty-nine other countries in the industrialized world.

What kind of policies can schools adopt to improve their education systems?

From existing research, four interrelated policies come to the forefront. School systems must: evaluate and directly reward good teacher performance; promote more completion so that parental demand will create strong incentives to improve individual schools; offer greater autonomy in local decision making, so that individual schools and their leaders can take actions to promote student achievement; and set up an accountability system that demands good school performance and rewards results.

What should the education role of federal government be?

First, Washington must take a national leadership role in promoting the importance of world-class education for the United States. Second, the federal government should continue supporting disadvantaged and special education students, as well as low-income students in colleges and universities through grants and loans. Third, the federal government should invest more in research about programs and policies that are needed to inform education policy making. The government should also ensure that high-quality data is available to qualified researchers pursuing the continued expansion of policy-relevant knowledge.