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So one year with your fourth-grade teacher making you learn fractions has vast effects on your prospects, but twenty-odd years with your parents shaping you at every moment doesn’t? I decided to try to figure this out by looking into the research on teacher effectiveness more closely.
First, how much do teachers matter compared to other things?
But they all agree pretty well that individual factors are most important, followed by school and teacher factors of roughly equal size.
Teacher factors explain somewhere between 5% and 20% of the variance.
But if we were consistently seeing things like everybody in Teacher A’s class getting A s and everyone in Teacher B’s class getting Ds, that would suggest that good teachers are very important.
Here are the results from three teams that tried this (source, source, source): These differ a little in that the first one assumes away all noise (“unexplained variance”) and the latter two keep it in.
So far most of this is straightforward and uncontroversial.
That is, if you go to a school where everyone else is a rich white kid, chances are that means you’re a rich white kid yourself.Other studies seem to agree, usually a little to the lower end.For example, Goldhaber, Brewer, and Anderson (1999) find teachers explain 9% of variance; Nye, Konstantopoulos, and Hedges (2004) find they explain 13% of variance for math and 7% for reading.The American Statistical Association summarizes the research as “teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores”, which seems about right.So put more simply – on average, individual students’ level of grit is what makes the difference.