Type: Seminar

CIERS: Robert Strauss, School of Public Policy and Management, Carnegie-Mellon

Date & time

Mar 28, 2014, 11:30 am-1:00 pm EDT


Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, 3rd Floor
735 South State Street Room 3240 Ann Arbor, MI 48109-3091

The objective of the Causal Inference in Education Research Seminar (CIERS) is to engage students and faculty from across the university in conversations around education research using various research methodologies.

This seminar provides a space for doctoral students and faculty from the School of Education, Ford School of Public Policy, and the Departments of Economics, Sociology, Statistics, and Political Science to discuss current research and receive feedback on works-in-progress. Discourse between these schools and departments creates a more complete community of education scholars, and provides a networking opportunity for students enrolled in a variety of academic programs who share common research interests. Open to PhD students and faculty engaged in causal inference in education research.

The purpose of this presentation is to interest CIERS participants in the political-economy
proposition that US public education can become more effective if and only if the local school governance process is refocused from student safety and self-dealing to learning. (See Table 1 in Severino and Strauss) about self-dealing opportunities state by state.

While it is fashionable to focus on the difference an individual teacher makes on student learning outcomes this does not necessarily translate into operational advice on whom to hire or how to hire. In several studies I have performed, I found that teacher content knowledge has a very strong effect on student learning; estimated partial elasticities of content knowledge on student learning are on the order of 10. (See Strauss and Vogt).

The labor market problem of finding the best and brightest for the classroom is not one of
inadequate wages to attract them. For example, based on Pennsylvania tax return information the median ratio of employed teachers annual salaries to privately employed, otherwise comparable individuals is 1.5 at first hire and actually rises over time. The labor market problem is one of intelligent selection by those responsible for hiring teachers. Data on teacher test score characteristics of first hires in Pa. are quite chilling overall and in Philadelphia even more worrisome.

Moreover, analysis of ex poste teacher hiring records and associated certification records, along with analysis of survey evidence on districts' experience with job applications in Pennsylvania, indicates a huge excess supply of teachers in virtually every certification area. Repeated survey evidence in Pennsylvania also indicates that only 1/2 of districts have written personnel policies, and that 40% of the teachers in an average district graduated from that districts where they now teach. This I take to be evidence of at least insularity or worse.

Since any public employee must be offered an employment contract through an affirmative, public vote of locally elected or appointed school boards throughout the US, the "problem" of public education, including underperformance of schools of choice, has to do with the incentives facing local decision makers, and the selection procedures used by these local boards and their employees in hiring teachers.

The seminar presentation will substantiate the above matters, and review proposed statutory language currently under consideration in the Pennsylvania Senate that will cure various school governance problems, including how to eliminate 'lemon' teachers.