Teaching Poor Kids: Is the Obstacle the Poverty or the Pedagogy?

One dispute over tying teacher evaluations to  data on student growth has been the charge that teachers who are effective with wealthy students would see their value-added scores plummet with poor students.  Those opposed to data-infused evaluations argue that even great teachers can’t maintain the same degree of effectiveness with needy kids. It’s the poverty, not the pedagogy.

However, there’s a new working paper out from the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Educational Research, “Portability of Teaching Effectiveness Across School Settings,” that comes to a different conclusion. From the abstract:
Redistributing highly effective teachers from low- to high-need schools is an education policy tool that is at the center of several major current policy initiatives. The underlying assumption is that teacher productivity is portable across different schools settings. Using elementary and secondary school data from North Carolina and Florida, this paper investigates the validity of this assumption. Among teachers who switched between schools with substantially different poverty levels or academic performance levels, we find no change in those teachers’ measured effectiveness before and after a school change. This pattern holds regardless of the direction of the school change. We also find that high-performing teachers’ value-added dropped and low-performing teachers’ value-added gained in the post-move years, primarily as a result of regression to the within-teacher mean and unrelated to school setting changes. Despite such shrinkages, high-performing teachers in the pre-move years still outperformed low-performing teachers after moving to schools with different settings.
In other words, the quality of pedagogy does matter, regardless of the socio-economic level of students.