JPAM Featured Article: Performance Standards and Employee Effort
March 15, 2016 04:53 PM
"Performance Standards and Employee Effort: Evidence from Teacher Absences"
As part of our ongoing effort to promote JPAM authors to the APPAM membership and the public policy world at large, we are asking JPAM authors to answer a few questions to promote their research article on the APPAM website.
By: Seth Gershenson
What was the genesis/history of the idea for your research?
Dating back to my time in graduate school, I was intrigued by research on the effect of consequential accountability pressure on teacher turnover. I was particularly interested in extending the extant literature to test whether these effects varied between tested and non-tested grades, or whether there were similar effects on within-school grade-level assignments, but I was unable to acquire the data necessary to address these questions in my dissertation. In the years since, after studying the causes and consequences of student absences using data from North Carolina, I started to think more about teacher absences. Specifically, while teacher turnover can be considered a labor supply response on the extensive margin, teacher absences can be considered a labor supply response on the intensive margin, and if accountability pressure affects teacher turnover, it might affect teacher absences as well. With generous support from the W.E. Upjohn Institute, I was able to eventually pursue idea using administrative data from North Carolina, which ultimately led to the publication of this article.
What is the main conclusion that becomes evident from your research?
The accountability pressure created by NCLB caused a significant ten percent reduction in teacher absences, on average, that were driven by within-teacher changes in behavior and not by strategic reshuffling of teachers across schools. However, while teacher absences do harm student achievement, this ten percent reduction in absences explains only a modest amount of the achievement gain attributable to NCLB.
What are some of the more interesting or surprising findings/conclusions, you discovered during this process?
The most surprising result to me was the general lack of heterogeneity in teachers’ responses to accountability pressure. For example, my prior was that there would be systematic differences between tested and non-tested grades.
What next steps do you envision should be taken because of your findings academically and/or practically?
This study suggests at least two directions for future research. First, much remains to be learned about the exact mechanisms through which consequential accountability policies affect student achievement. Increased teacher effort, as measured by teacher absences, is not a primary driver of test-score gains. However, increased teacher attendance might have other positive benefits that are not captured by test scores. For example, higher rates of teacher attendance might increase student engagement. Second, it would be useful to think about other ways to systematically measure teacher effort and teacher engagement, and to study the factors that influence teacher effort and engagement.
Seth Gershenson (Twitter: @SethGershenson)
Seth Gershenson is assistant professor of public policy in the School of Public Affairs at American University. He is also a Research Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in Germany and currently serves on the editorial board of Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis (EEPA). His primary area of research is in the economics of K-12 education. Specific research agendas in this area include the formation of teachers’ expectations for students and how biases in such expectations affect student outcomes; how home environments and out-of-school inputs such as summer vacation, student absences, parental involvement, and community violence affect student outcomes; and practical issues in the identification of teacher effectiveness.
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