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Better English teachers not only boost a student’s reading and writing performance in the short-term, but they also raise their students math and English achievement in future years. That’s according to a working paper, “Learning that Lasts: Unpacking Variation in Teachers’ Effects on Students’ Long-Term Knowledge,” by a team of Stanford University and University of Virginia researchers presented at the 7th Annual Calder Research Conference on January 23, 2014.

The researchers, Benjamin Master, Susanna Loeb and James Wyckoff, looked at 700,000 students in New York City in third through eighth grade over the course of eight school years (from 2003-04 to 2011-12). Their research initially confirmed the lasting impact of good English language arts or math teachers within their subjects. These teachers not only produce higher than expected test scores during the year that they are teaching the students, but their students go on to score better in that subject in subsequent years. Specifically, one-fifth of a teacher’s value added to achievement persists into the subsequent year.

More surprising were the crossover effects from English to math. The researchers found that the students of good English language arts teachers had higher than expected math scores in subsequent years. And this long-term boost to math performance was nearly as large (three quarters) as the long-term benefits within the subject of English. Conversely, good math teachers had only minimal long-term effects on English performance. Their positive effects were more subject specific.

“Our findings reinforce the value of investments in student learning in ELA (English language arts), even if the immediate effects of teachers or other instructional interventions may appear modest in comparison to effects on short-term math achievement,” the authors wrote. The authors added that their motivation for this study was a concern that many school districts are too narrowly focusing on rating teachers based on short-term test gains and they wanted to try to understand what kinds of teaching produce long-term learning benefits.

Understanding why English teaching matters so much in other subjects is unclear. Some speculate that other subjects require some amount of reading and writing, whereas no math is required in many other classes. For example, you have to be able to read and understand word problems to do well in math.

The researchers also found substantial demographic differences in the long-term benefits to good teaching. More long-term benefits to good teaching were found in schools that serve more white and high income students. Long-term benefits to good teaching were smaller in schools dominated by minority and low-income students.

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Jill Barshay writes the weekly “Proof Points” column about education research and data, covering a range of topics from early childhood to higher education. She taught algebra to ninth-graders for...

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