Study: One Good Teacher Can Have Long-Term Impact

Apple for the (great) teacher.

A major study has linked good teachers to lasting gain for students. The study, conducted by Harvard and Columbia University economists and reported in the New York Times, looked at 2.5 million students over 20 years. It measured not only test scores, but other variables like students’ incomes after graduation.

Elementary- and middle-school teachers who raised students’ standardized test scores had such far-reaching, long-term impacts. Their students:


  • Are less likely to become pregnant as teenagers,
  • Are more likely to enroll in college, and
  • Earned more money as adults.

The study showed that students with just one excellent teacher between fourth and eighth grades will earn $4,600 more during his or her lifetime than a student who had average or poor teachers during that time. While $4,600 over the course of a lifetime may not be that much, if you look at it in terms of that student’s entire class, we’re looking at $266,000. Multiply that amount by the number of classes, and the number of years that one excellent teacher is in the classroom, and it’s a huge amount of money.

Controlling for several factors, including students’ backgrounds, the study found that “value-added” scores consistently identified some teachers as better than others, even if the individual teachers’ scores varied from year to year. “Value-added” ratings measure the impact teachers have on test scores.

The study also disproved the commonly-held theory that great teachers in the early years of education have more impact than great teachers in the later years.

While it seems like a given that good teachers inspire kids to do well in other areas of their lives, the study was able to attach hard numbers to areas that are notoriously hard to measure. I doubt that anyone believes that standardized test scores are the end-all and be-all to measuring teachers, but it’s great to see a study that really shows the impact even one great teacher has on the life of a student.

Hopefully, every child has at least one great teacher in his or her educational career. I was fortunate enough to have lots of great teachers, but two stick in my mind as life-changing. Great teachers aren’t just about the academics; they’re the ones who teach you about the kind of person you want to be, the kind of parent you want to be, the kind of citizen you want to be. And then they show you that it’s possible to make that happen.

The teachers who made the most lasting impact on my life? Mr. Flanagan and Mr. McGrath. Thank you, gentlemen, for looking past my annoying, sullen teen angst and believing I could succeed.

(Photo Credit: Clare Bloomfield)

Talk back!  What teachers have had the biggest impact on your life?

Read more from Joslyn at her blog, stark. raving. mad. mommy. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter for even more nonsense.

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