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The Absolute Importance of Teacher Quality

Posted on Jun 18, 2012

Small class sizes have been consistently advertised by schools and universities as indicative of a superior education. Of late, there has been an emphasis on reducing class sizes, mainly by hiring more teachers, thus leading to significant increases in per-student spending. Despite this push, no notable impacts have been observed. McKinsey & Company reports in How the world’s best-performing school systems come out on top, “Of 112 studies which looked at the impact of the reduction in class sizes on student outcomes, 103 found either no significant relationship, or a significant negative relationship.”

In reality, a student’s success seems to be based primarily upon the quality of the teachers that a student has. In a defining study from Tennessee, it was demonstrated that, “If two average eight-year-old students were given different teachers – one of them a high performer, the other a low performer – their performances diverge by more than 50 percentile points within three years.” This is the significant relationship that we should be focused on. Quality teachers are key to student success, and consequently, practices to produce and make available quality teaching is the key to a strong educational system.

Of course, this could all change given some of the opportunities presented by online learning. As discussed in a prior post, online learning can allow the best teachers to work with students from around a state, a country, or even the world. Will teacher quality still be important when educators are teaching via computer screens instead of a blackboard? Does teacher quality still make a difference in massive classes?

McKinsey & Company. (2007). How the world’s best-performing school systems come out on top.

Josh Luthi is a computer science student at the University of Kansas and has a penchant for politics.

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