Does Good Teaching Matter?

Many recent proposals to improve educational rankings emphasize instructional quality. But does “better teaching” improve educational outcomes? The case for its doing so would seem self-evident, but figuring out appropriate metrics is a difficult problemt. What is better teaching? and what are better educational outcomes? A new paper highlights these tensions. From the abstract:

It is difficult to measure teaching quality at the postsecondary level because students typically self-select their coursework and their professors. Despite this, student evaluations of professors are widely used in faculty promotion and tenure decisions. We exploit the random assignment of college students to professors in a large body of required coursework to examine how professor quality affects student achievement. Introductory course professors significantly affect student achievement in contemporaneous and follow-on related courses, but the effects are quite heterogeneous across subjects. Students of professors who as a group perform well in the initial mathematics course perform significantly worse in follow-on related math, science, and engineering courses. We find that the academic rank, teaching experience, and terminal degree status of mathematics and science professors are negatively correlated with contemporaneous student achievement, but positively related to follow-on course achievement. Across all subjects, student evaluations of professors are positive predictors of contemporaneous course achievement, but are poor predictors of follow-on course achievement.

That is, well-regarded, young, inexperienced teachers provide better short-term results (hypothesis: enthusiasm), but over the longer term unpopular, older, experienced teachers add the most value.

Interesting result. I wish the paper were available for free so I could check out the methodology. If anyone has a copy, please send it my way!

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3 Responses

  1. TRE says:

    Suggests problems in the grading system.

  2. anonyma says:

    Try this site for the June 2008 version:

    (sometimes a little googling goes a long way)

  3. George says:

    It is an “interesting result”, but does it cross over to legal academia? That is, are law professors the same as math, science, or humanities professors? I think not. Students in traditional academic settings are encouraged to engage their professors and receive continuous feedback on their work. This is not true in law school. I’m not sure you can describe what it is a law professor does as teaching in the traditional sense.

    This isn’t meant as a criticism, just a fact that may justify taking these results with a grain of salt. Further, if there are qualitative differences in “teaching” styles, then that would change the metrics used to measure good qualities of a law professor versus what are good qualities of a humanities professor.