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Promising Practices, Teaching

Does Teaching Quality Make a Difference?

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There is growing consensus that good teaching makes a big difference to students’ learning. Many studies show that the quality of teaching is a key determinant of student schooling experience and attainment, regardless of race, gender or socio-economic background.

Researchers have tried to determine which factors seem to have the largest effect on teaching quality. Among the most important:

  • Teacher knowledge about good teaching and learning practices appears to have the strongest and most consistent positive effect on student outcomes.
  • A degree in the subject taught is significantly and positively correlated with student attainment and with staying in teaching, particularly at the secondary school level.
  • Teachers’ verbal ability and literacy level have shown some association with higher student attainment.
  • Continuing professional development is necessary for improvements in teaching quality, especially when there are changes in curriculum, teaching methods, and the student population.

Other factors seem to have less association with student outcomes:

  • Some studies find that teaching experience has a positive effect on effectiveness, especially experience gained in the first year of teaching, but the results are not always significant.
  • Studies of teacher behaviour and personality have yielded inconsistent findings, although in some studies there appears to be a positive relationship between student learning and teachers’ ‘flexibility,’ ‘creativity,’ and ‘adaptability.’
  • The relationship between teachers with master’s degree and student outcomes is weak to non-existent.

These findings suggest the following:

  • Teaching requires multiple skills
  • The most important single element that distinguishes more effective teachers is their deeper knowledge about pedagogy, that is, how best to support and foster students’ learning.

CEA and the Ontario Institute in Studies in Education (OISE) have teamed up to provide you with relevant and timely information based on current empirical educational research. The primary goal of this project is to get relevant and needed research into the hands of parents and other interested people. They are written in plain language on topics of interest to parents, such as homework and class size.

Additional Resources 

  • Teacher Quality Resources:  The Teacher Quality Digest is a publication that provides practical information on specific areas related to qualities of effective teachers.  [Website]
  • Teacher Quality Research:  TQR is a partnership between researchers at Florida State University and the University of Wisconsin at Madison.  The purpose of TQR is to provide research evidence on the characteristics and education of effective teachers.  [Website]
  • Take Part:  TakePart.com is an independent online community that provides information on social, environmental, political and cultural issues in the United States.  There are 19 educational issues published in this website, including one on Teacher Quality.  [Website]

Research References Informing this Issue

Darling-Hammond, L. (1999)  Teacher Quality and Student Achievement:  A Review of State Policy Evidence.  Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy, University of Washington.  Available:  [pdf file]

  • Studies have found a somewhat stronger and more consistently positive influence of education coursework on teachers’ effectiveness.
  • Other studies of the effects of teacher experience on student learning have found a relationship between teachers’ effectiveness and their years of experience, but not always a significant one or an entirely linear one.
  • A number of studies suggest that the typical problems of beginning teachers are lessened for those who have had adequate preparation prior to entry.
  • Research on teachers’ personality traits and behaviours has produced few consistent findings, with the exception of studies finding a recurring positive relationship between student learning and teachers’ ‘flexibility,’ ‘creativity,’ or ‘adaptability.’

Day, C. and Leitch, R. (2007).  The Continuing Professional Development of Teachers:  Issues of

Coherence, Cohesion and Effectiveness.  International Handbook of School Effectiveness and Improvement.  Springer Netherlands: 707-726.

Hanushek, E. and Welch, F. (2006).  Teacher Quality.  Handbook of the Economics of Education, Volume 2.  North Holland.

  • Perhaps most remarkable is the finding that a master’s degree has no systematic relationship to teacher quality as measured by student outcomes.

Ingvarson, L. and Rowe, K. (2007).  Conceptualising and Evaluating Teacher Quality:  Substantive and Methodological Issues.  The Economics of Teacher Quality Conference, 2007.  Available:  [pdf file]

Rowe, K. (2003).  The Importance of Teacher Quality as a Key Determinant of Students’ Experiences and Outcomes of Schooling.  ACER Research Conference 2003.  Available:  [pdf file] 

  • What matters most?  Certainly NOT the ‘pimple’ of gender and socio-economic differences, nor school structural arrangements of interest to ‘school effectiveness’ researchers, but the ‘pumpkin’ of quality teaching and learning provision, supported by strategic teacher professional development!

Rowe, K. (2007).  School and Teacher Effectiveness:  Implications of Findings from Evidence-Based Research on Teacher and Teacher Quality.  International Handbook of School Effectiveness and Improvement.  Springer Netherlands: 767-786.

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Ontario Institute for Studies in Education