Kirabo Jackson's Study Shows Teachers Learn from Peers in Important Ways

Kirabo Jackson's Study Shows Teachers Learn from Peers in Important Ways

Kirabo Jackson

Teachers who have more effective colleagues in their school are more effective teachers themselves, a study by associate professor Kirabo Jackson shows. Peer learning is the reason, according to Jackson.

Jackson looked at student test score gains to see if changes in teachers at a school affected the test score growth of a teacher’s students. He used long-term data linking elementary school test scores and teacher information in North Carolina.

“We document that a teacher’s own performance is affected by the quality of her peers. In particular, changes in the quality of a teacher’s colleagues (all other teachers in the school who teach the same grade) are associated with changes in her students’ test scores,” Jackson states in an article written with Elias Bruegmann for American Economic Journal: Applied Economics.

In examining peer quality, Jackson's research takes into consideration observable characteristics of teachers such as certification and experience. It also takes into consideration unobservable aspects of peer quality.

It’s clear that student test scores in reading and math are higher for teachers who are certified and experienced. More surprisingly, other students in the same grade may receive “spillover effects” that improve their reading and math scores.

Jackson says peer-related learning is responsible for peer quality affecting the achievement of another teacher’s students. One indication is that less experienced teachers are more responsive to changes in peer quality than more experienced teachers.

Jackson’s research has striking implications for policies related to how teachers should be placed in schools and compensated. Novice teachers should be exposed to experienced, effective teachers, according to Jackson. Also, compensation schemes that reward teacher performance in relation to peers may be detrimental, he adds.

A labor economist, Jackson studies education and social policy issues. His recent work analyzes the role of peer learning in teacher effectiveness and how student demographics affect the distribution of teacher quality across schools. He is also involved in a number of projects to understand when and why certain policies that reward teachers — or students — for student achievement improve student outcomes.

Another research area for Jackson involves the role of worker-firm “match quality” and its effects on worker productivity, including evidence that how well a teacher fits with a certain school can be as important as teacher quality for some outcomes. He is also involved in ongoing projects studying the effects of attending single-sex schools in Trinidad and Tobago.

Jackson’s scholarly articles have appeared in the Journal of Labor Economics and Journal of Human Resources among others, and his research has been featured in a number of mainstream media outlets, including The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and Education Week. Both the Spencer and the Smith Richardson foundations have supported his projects. He is a faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 11/26/13