Does Professor Quality Matter in Education?
A weak faculty operates a weak program that attracts weak students.
This research has interesting implications for the ongoing debate over “teaching the test”, short-term vs long-term benefits of an education, and “deep-learning”. The study found that the way introductory courses are taught may have a detrimental affect on student study habits that may have to be “unlearned” for follow-on courses.
Finally, and most significantly … “our results show that student evaluations reward professors who increase achievement in the contemporaneous course being taught, not those who increase deep learning.”
So, if these student evaluations are used as input for promotion and tenure decisions of professors, are we rewarding and promoting less experienced and less qualified professors over highly qualified professors that position students for longer-term deep-learning even though their students perform less well in contemporaneous courses and provide lower score evaluations back to these professors?
Here is the conclusion from the research paper. A PDF of the full paper is available at the end of this posting
We find that less experienced and less qualified professors produce students who perform significantly better in the contemporaneous course being taught, whereas more experienced and highly qualified professors produce students who perform better in the follow-on related curriculum.
Owing to the complexities of the education production function, where both students and faculty engage in optimizing behavior, we can only speculate as to the mechanism by which these effects may operate. Similar to elementary and secondary school teachers, who often have advance knowledge of assessment content in high-stakes testing systems, all professors teaching a given course at USAFA have an advance copy of the exam before it is given. Hence, educators in both settings must choose how much time to allocate to tasks that have great value for raising current scores but may have little value for lasting knowledge.
One potential explanation for our results is that the less experienced professors may adhere more strictly to the regimented curriculum being tested, whereas the more experienced professors broaden the curriculum and produce students with a deeper understanding of the material.
This deeper understanding results in better achievement in the followon courses. Another potential mechanism is that students may learn (good or bad) study habits depending on the manner in which their introductory course is taught. For example, introductory professors who “teach to the test” may induce students to exert less study effort in followon related courses. This may occur because of a false signal of one’s own ability or an erroneous expectation of how follow-on courses will be taught by other professors.
A final, more cynical, explanation could also relate to student effort. Students of low-value-added professors in the introductory course may increase effort in follow-on courses to help “erase” their lower than expected grade in the introductory course.
Regardless of how these effects may operate, our results show that student evaluations reward professors who increase achievement in the contemporaneous course being taught, not those who increase deep learning.
Using our various measures of teacher quality to rank-order teachers leads to profoundly different results. Since many U.S. colleges and universities use student evaluations as a measurement of teaching quality for academic promotion and tenure decisions, this finding draws into question the value and accuracy of this practice.
Read the full paper from The Journal of Political Economy