teacher expertise

Study: Teacher expertise increases students’ college success

Postsecondary success could be linked to teacher enthusiasm, passion for subject matter

Teacher expertise in subject matter has a big influence on students’ postsecondary success, according to a new report.

A University of Missouri researcher found that high school students who are taught by teachers who majored or minored in a specific teaching subject, instead of a general teaching degree, are more likely to graduate from college.

Researcher Se Woong Lee, an assistant professor in the university’s College of Education, says schools can use this research on teacher expertise to build a pipeline of highly-qualified teachers and focus on student success.

Through an analysis of a longitudinal data set collected from more than 6,000 students and their teachers nationwide, Lee found that students who were taught by a succession of teachers who majored or minored in mathematics had better success in short-term math achievement. In the long term, the students also were more likely to graduate from college.

“Performance is a collective measure of a school,” says Lee. “If we develop a system where the focus is on student development and learning over time, then we’re helping to give equal opportunities to students within a school and being fair to our teachers at the same time.”

Part of the reason for this continued student success could be teachers’ ability to motivate students when they are engaged in the specific subject areas in which teachers majored or minored.

“Teacher quality is the most influential factor that determines student success,” Lee adds. “If students are taught by a string of under-qualified and under-performing teachers, it limits academic potential. However, highly-qualified teachers are more likely to expand students’ desires to learn and succeed.”

Schools can prioritize this increase in student achievement by tailoring the hiring process in a way that attracts teachers with a background or specialization in the courses they will teach. For instance, a school seeking a literature teacher would look to prioritize applicants who majored in English in college. In addition, sharing student data and performance from teacher to teacher could be beneficial to students’ long-term success, Lee says.

“Right now in schools, there’s little collaboration between teachers as students move from one grade level to the next,” Lee adds. “However, if a student’s third-grade math teacher sits down with their incoming fourth-grade math teacher, they can share information on the student’s performance and how they learn best.”

Pulling back the curtain: Revealing the cumulative importance of high-performing, highly qualified teachers on students’ educational outcome” was published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.

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Laura Ascione

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