Teacher Experience and Student Achievement

Published October 1, 2001

Do students reach higher levels of achievement when taught by better qualified and more experienced teachers? Just barely, according to the latest fourth-grade math scores from the 2000 National Assessment of Educational Progress. However, research shows that better qualified and more experienced teachers tend to move to schools with higher-achieving students.

Experience Doesn’t Mean Achievement

Although public school salary scales result in better qualified and more experienced teachers being paid more, their students get only marginally higher test scores, reports education researcher Mike Antonucci in a recent issue of his Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué.

Nationally, fourth-grade students whose teachers held a bachelor’s degree scored 225 on the NAEP math test. Students whose teachers held a master’s degree scored 227. Students whose teachers had been teaching for two years or less scored 223, three to five years’ experience 224, six to 10 years’ experience 226, 11 to 24 years’ experience 227, and over 25 years’ experience 228.

Similar results were obtained in a study of Texas schools by economics professor Eric Hanushek of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He found student achievement was affected by having a first-year teacher but not much else. (See “Incentives: The Fundamental Problem in Education,” School Reform News, January 2000.)

“The first year of teaching is kind of rocky, but after that, teacher experience doesn’t seem to make much difference,” Hanushek said. “Whether teachers have masters degrees or not doesn’t make any systematic differences in performance, either.”

Good Students Attract Teachers

Hanushek also reported that, as teachers gained experience, they tended to make career moves that put them in classrooms of higher-achieving children. This finding was echoed by Parte Barth, a senior associate at the Education Trust, who recently told Education Week reporter Robert C. Johnson that teachers try to transfer to schools “where it’s not as difficult to teach.”

What happens when an outstanding teacher bucks the trend, seeking a transfer to a school in an impoverished area with lower-achieving students, as 2000 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year Faith Kline did in the spring of 2000?

According to Johnson, the Philadelphia School District didn’t transfer her to the Edwin M. Stanton School, as she and Stanton principal James P. Otto had requested. Instead, they transferred her to another school with higher test scores in a less-needy community. A school district spokesperson said the system had worked the way it was supposed to, and blamed the snafu on the way Kline had filled out her paperwork.

“It says volumes about huge, bureaucratic districts and their commitment to children,” Kline told Johnson. “If it’s my fault that I didn’t get to one of their schools that’s the most needy, then what was their role and what was the purpose of that group [the district personnel office].”