Background/Context: Although there is relative agreement on the pattern of the achievement gap, attributing changes in the gap to schooling is less clear. Our study contributes to understanding potential teacher and teaching effects on achievement and inequality.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: We intend our work to contribute to understanding the school’s role in addressing the achievement gap. We investigate the extent to which specific aspects of teacher quality (degree in math, experience, certification, math courses, and professional development) and teaching quality (time spent on math instruction and conceptual, basic procedural, and advanced procedural instruction) influence mathematics achievement growth and the achievement gap between White and Black students and low- and high-SES students in kindergarten and first grade.
Research Design, Data Collection and Analysis: In this secondary analysis, we examine the first four waves of data from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (2000), a nationally representative longitudinal sample of students who were kindergartners in 1998. We use multilevel growth models to estimate relationships.
Findings/Results: We found evidence that lower achieving students are initially assigned to teachers who emphasize basic instruction, and higher achieving students are assigned teachers who emphasize more advanced instruction. The use of advanced procedural instruction and time spent on math were related to achievement growth for traditionally disadvantaged populations—Black students and low-SES students. Other types of instruction and teacher quality variables were not related to achievement growth.
Conclusions/Recommendations: We found weak or no effects for teacher quality and type of instruction, which suggests that these aspects of teacher and teaching quality may operate as sorting variables. This may explain a part of the findings of past cross-sectional and gain studies that would likely interpret correlations between teachers and teaching as part of the effect of instruction. We found that low achievers tend to get teachers who spend less time on instruction, a variable we found significant in influencing achievement growth. If, as our study found, time on instruction matters, and disadvantaged students are more likely to get the weakest teachers who spend less time on instruction, we can identify an area in which schooling exacerbates the achievement gap but has the potential to ameliorate it.