Jun 03 2016

Does Teaching Experience Increase Teacher Effectiveness? A Review of the Research

Do teachers continue to improve in their effectiveness as they gain experience in the teaching profession? This paper aims to answer that question by critically reviewing recent literature that analyzes the effect of teaching experience on student outcomes in K-12 public schools in the United States. The goal of this paper is to provide researchers and policymakers with a comprehensive and timely review of this body of work.

A renewed look at this research is warranted due to advances in research methods (including the use of teacher and student fixed effects) and longitudinal data systems that have allowed researchers to more accurately answer this question. Specifically, by including teacher fixed effects in their analyses, researchers have been able to compare a teacher with multiple years of experience to that same teacher when he or she had fewer years of experience. In contrast, older studies often used less precise methods, such as cross-sectional analyses, which compare distinct cohorts of teachers with different experience levels during a single school year.

Findings

Based on their review of 30 studies published within the last 15 years that analyze the effect of teaching experience on student outcomes in the United States and met specific methodological criteria, the authors found that: 

  1. Teaching experience is positively associated with student achievement gains throughout a teacher’s career. Gains in teacher effectiveness associated with experience are most steep in teachers’ initial years, but continue to be significant as teachers reach the second, and often third, decades of their careers.
  2. As teachers gain experience, their students not only learn more, as measured by standardized tests, they are also more likely to do better on other measures of success, such as school attendance.
  3. Teachers’ effectiveness increases at a greater rate when they teach in a supportive and collegial working environment, and when they accumulate experience in the same grade level, subject, or district.
  4. More-experienced teachers support greater student learning for their colleagues and the school as a whole, as well as for their own students.

Although the research does not indicate that the passage of time will make all teachers better or incompetent teachers effective, it does indicate that, for most teachers, effectiveness increases with experience. The benefits of teaching experience will be best realized when teachers are carefully selected and well prepared at the point of entry into the teaching workforce, as well as intensively mentored and rigorously evaluated prior to receiving tenure. These efforts will ensure that those who enter the professional tier of teaching have met a competency standard from which they can continue to expand their expertise throughout their careers.

Recommendations

Policymakers should focus on program and investment strategies that build an experienced teaching workforce of high-quality individuals who are continually learning. Accomplishing this goal will require the implementation of policies and practices to increase teacher retention and reduce turnover in schools. Recommendations include:

1. Increase stability in teacher job assignments. Research shows that teachers who have repeated experience teaching the same grade level or subject area improve more rapidly than those whose experience is in varied grade levels or subjects. School leaders should be made aware of the increased benefits of specific teaching experience and consider this in their decisions about teaching assignments.

2. Create conditions for strong collegial relationships among school staff and a positive and professional working environment. Among the most common reasons teachers give for leaving the classroom is an unsupportive principal or a lack of collegial support among the staff. In contrast, teachers who have chosen to stay in the profession cite the quality of relationships among staff, a supportive principal, and opportunities to collaborate as among their most important reasons for continuing to teach. Collegiality is hard to legislate, but nonetheless, there are concrete steps that policymakers can take. District and school leaders can facilitate scheduling changes to allow for regular blocks of time for teachers who teach the same subject or who share groups of students to collaborate and plan curriculums together. Federal and state policymakers can promote principal career pathways, in which talented teachers are proactively recruited and intensively trained by an expert principal. Increasing opportunities for collaboration and a more productive working environment is smart policy both because of the promise it holds for increased teacher retention and because the benefits of experience are greater for teachers in strong professional working environments.

3. Strengthen policies to encourage the equitable distribution of more experienced teachers and discourage the concentration of novice teachers in high-needs schools. The new Every Student Succeeds Act maintains a federal focus on closing the equity gap with respect to students’ access to expert, experienced teachers. It requires states to develop educator equity plans describing how low-income students and students of color "are not served at disproportionate rates by ineffective, out-of-field, or inexperienced teachers" and to evaluate and publicly report on their progress in this area. Further, districts are required to "identify and address" teacher equity gaps. As the U.S. Department of Education works to implement these provisions, much will depend on how the term “inexperienced teacher” is defined. The Department of Education should strengthen its enforcement of these provisions and define the term "inexperienced teacher" to include teachers who, at a minimum, are in their first or second year of teaching. Such a definition would be consistent with the definition used by the Department in its Civil Rights Data Collection, which provides important data on the concentration of first-year and second-year teachers in every school in the nation.


Does Teaching Experience Increase Teacher Effectiveness? A Review of the Research by Tara Kini and Anne Podolsky is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Research in this area of work is funded in part by the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation. Core operating support for the Learning Policy Institute is provided by the Ford Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Sandler Foundation.