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The Teacher Spillover Effect

Science Under the Microscope

The Teacher Spillover EffectGreat teaching is contagious, according to a new study.


A recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research has shown that adding an accomplished teacher to a teaching team or department has a strong beneficial effect on student achievement. Many have reported this as “old news”, since most teachers could tell you that good teachers help students to do better work.


What is the Teacher Spillover Effect?


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But, there is a more significant message in the paper--the effect on student performance was indirect. That is, the other teachers on the team became more effective due to the presence of a skilled colleague. The authors attribute this change to raised standards and opportunities to observe and learn from highly capable teachers nearby.


This so-called “spillover” effect has the potential to revolutionize the way we hire and place educators within a school. Administrators now have concrete evidence that if they can find and retain high-quality teachers, they can distribute them as “centers of innovation” throughout the school and reap rewards. There is an incentive for principals to seek out highly qualified teachers and use them to promote the development of other teachers in the school building. This also suggests a new model for teacher performance pay: identify several levels of master teachers and pay them more, with the expectation that they would go where they are needed.


Will this new data change our schools?


I think that it will. The change may be slow, but we will probably see more attention given to the idea of “seeding” schools with talented, experienced educators in order to create a climate of positive change.


Moreover, consider the impact of this finding on the No Child Left Behind policy of “taking over” failing schools and replacing the entire faculty.


Wouldn’t it be more efficient (and much less disruptive) to bring in a small number of hand-picked master teachers to raise the morale, performance, and atmosphere of failing schools? Let’s hope the Obama administration reads this report and takes it to heart.

Do you think the teacher spillover effect is real? Share your ideas in the comments section!