Does in‐service professional learning for high school economics teachers improve student achievement?

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Waterloo]On: 28 November 2014, At: 08:59Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Education EconomicsPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cede20

    Does inservice professional learningfor high school economics teachersimprove student achievement?John R. Swinton a , Thomas De Berry b , Benjamin Scafidi a &Howard C. Woodard aa Georgia College & State University Center for EconomicEducation , Milledgeville, Georgia, USAb FreedHardeman University , Henderson, Tennessee, USAPublished online: 16 Dec 2008.

    To cite this article: John R. Swinton , Thomas De Berry , Benjamin Scafidi & Howard C. Woodard(2010) Does inservice professional learning for high school economics teachers improve studentachievement?, Education Economics, 18:4, 395-405, DOI: 10.1080/09645290802470434

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  • Education EconomicsVol. 18, No. 4, December 2010, 395405

    ISSN 0964-5292 print/ISSN 1469-5782 online 2010 Taylor & FrancisDOI: 10.1080/09645290802470434http://www.informaworld.com

    Does in-service professional learning for high school economics teachers improve student achievement?

    John R. Swintona*, Thomas De Berryb, Benjamin Scafidia and Howard C. Woodarda

    aGeorgia College & State University Center for Economic Education, Milledgeville, Georgia, USA; bFreed-Hardeman University, Henderson, Tennessee, USA

    Taylor and Francis LtdCEDE_A_347211.sgm (Received 29 October 2007; final version received 19 March 2008)10.1080/09645290802470434Education Economics0964-5292 (print)/1469-5782 (online)Original Article2008Taylor & Francis0000000002008JohnSwintonJohn.swinton@gcsu.edu

    Education policy analysts and professional educators have called for more and betterprofessional learning opportunities for in-service teachers, and for at least 30 yearseconomists called for more content training for high school economics teachers. Usingnew data from all Georgia high school economics students, we assess the impact of in-service teacher workshops on the performance of students on a high-stakes end-of-courseeconomics exam. Controlling for student characteristics and teacher fixed effects, wefind a positive and significant impact of teacher workshop attendance once teachershave attended three workshops on student test scores. Furthermore, the results suggestthat in-service workshops for economics teachers offer a cost-effective way to providecontent training.

    Keywords: in-service teacher training; student achievement

    1. Introduction

    Teacher quality has been shown to be a large determinant of student achievement in primaryand secondary education (Rivkin, Hanushek, and Kain 2005). While many studies havefound very limited effects of teacher credentials on student achievement, Clotfelter, Ladd,and Vigdor (2007) find positive and relatively large impacts of various teacher credentialson student performance. Professional learning for in-service teachers is a more modestfinancial investment in teacher quality than teacher credentials such as earning an advanceddegree or National Board Certification, for example.

    Education policy analysts and professional educators have long called for more andbetter professional learning opportunities for in-service teachers (see, for example, NationalCommission on Teaching and Americas Future 1996). What is true throughout K12education may be an acute problem in high school economics. As early as 1977, researcherscalled for more content training for high school economics teachers (Mackey, Glenn, andLewis 1977). More recently, Walstad (2001) found that the typical teacher who is teachingeconomics has completed no more than one college course in economics. Mackey, Glenn,and Lewis (1977) suggested that teachers at least minor in economics to be qualified toteach at the high school level. However, few high school economics teachers do so.

    Currently, 17 US states include at least one high-school level course in economics as arequirement for graduation. Georgia is one of the few states to also require students to takea high-stakes end-of-course test to demonstrate an understanding of economic concepts. In

    *Corresponding author. Email: John.swinton@gcsu.edu

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  • 396 J.R. Swinton et al.

    the 2005/06 school year, 41% of Georgias high school economics students failed thisstatewide examination, which counted for at least 15% of their final class grade (GeorgiaDepartment of Education [GaDOE] 2007) Many attribute this poor performance in highschool economics to a lack of teachers with sufficient content knowledge or training ineconomics.

    To fill the training gap, the National Council on Economic Education (NCEE), its stateCouncils, and college-based and university-based centers offer in-service training andworkshops to high school economics teachers. The NCEE programs intend to help teachersdevelop an understanding of economic concepts and to introduce them to teaching materialthat will aid them in preparing class lessons. Since its inception in 1972, the Georgia Coun-cil on Economic Education (GCEE) has offered hundreds of workshops to thousands ofGeorgias teachers. Workshops have introduced teachers to materials that address all areasof economics from personal finance in kindergarten to Advanced Placement economics inhigh school.

    There is some evidence that workshops similar to those offered by the GCEE helpteachers improve students test scores (for examples, see Highsmith 1974; Thorton andVredeveld 1977; Walstad 1979; Schober 1984; Weaver, Deaton, and Reach 1987;Bosshardt and Watts 1990, 1994; Watts and Bosshardt 1991). Workshops have changeddramatically since the videotape and conference call approaches in the 1970s. Todaysface-to-face workshops introduce teachers to materials custom made for state and nationaltesting goals. Workshops provide a vast amount of material that teachers can take directlyinto the classroom. Materials are available in the form of specific lesson plans and sophis-ticated DVDs. Often, the materials provide links to up-to-date web-based materials. Work-shops not only introduce teachers to material but help them take the material for a test driveand come to a better understanding of the economic content in each lesson. The GCEEspends about $700,000 each year to provide workshops and materials for teachers. Yet,there is little current information concerning the effectiveness of these workshops.

    In this paper, we examine the test scores of Georgia students who take the mandatoryend-of-course test (EOCT) in economics. All Georgia students must take a comprehensiveeconomics examination as part of their required economics course. Since spring 2004, thetest counts for at least 15% of the each students grade, and therefore it qualifies as a high-stakes test. We compare the scores of students whose teachers have undergone training atGCEE workshops with those of teachers who have not undergone such training. Wecontrol for student factors that previous studies have shown to affect student performance.Because there are many potentially important influences that we cannot observe, such ashow teachers decide whether to attend workshops, we estimate our models allowing forteacher fixed effects. We also adjust test scores to control for time trends within the data.We find that taking three GCEE workshops has a positive, statistically significant impacton student test scores, and the magnitude of the impact is similar to the magnitudes of thecredentials considered in Clotfelter, Ladd, and Vidgor (2007). These results suggest thatprofessional learning for in-service teachers can have a positive impact on student achieve-ment. Given the extremely low cost of the in-service workshops ($700,000 per year), itappears that this treatment is a cost-effective way to improve student achievement ineconomics. Given that the average economics teacher has had little economics contenttraining prior to teaching the subject, we cannot say whether similar workshops in otheracademic subjects would be as beneficial.

    In Section 2 we discuss the background literature, and we describe the data in Section3. We present the empirical model and results in Section 4, and provide concluding remarksin Section 5.

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  • Education Economics 397

    2. Background literature on in-service training for teachers

    There has been little empirical assessment of the efficacy of in-service instruction forelementary and secondary teachers and its role in improving student performance. Kennedy(1998) offers a good summary of the earlier empirical work. In general, the past studies areinconclusive concerning the effectiveness of in-service education. Two somewhat recentstudies stand out as an indicative of this observation. Angrist and Lavy (2001) show that in-service programs coupled with other school-wide reforms can aid teachers in their efforts toteach both mathematics and language skills in Jerusalem public schools. They found thatsome groups of students experience as much as a 0.25 standard deviation increase in testscores after their teacher participated in the training programs. Their treatment is not,however, limited just to the impact of in-service training for teachers. The program in theJerusalem schools that they study was a comprehensive attempt to improve educationaloutcomes. Jacob and Lefgren (2004), in contrast, found no evidence that in-service programshelp Chicago teachers improve the performance of students. The treatment they study costsup to $90,000 per school which is paid by the central office, but individual schools maysupplement this amount. All of the schools in their study, however, were initially low-performing schools. They studied programs that cut across academic disciplines and targetgeneral measures of learning such as reading and mathematics scores.

    Even with the evidence that teacher education matters to student outcomes, mosteconomics teachers lack sufficient content training to be as effective as they could be. InGeorgia, teachers are required to demonstrate knowledge of a content area before beingcertified to teach that subject. From 1978 until 1997 a teacher demonstrated competencyby passing the Teacher Certification Test. From 1997 until 2006 a teacher had to havepassed the Praxis II social studies test to demonstrate sufficient content knowledge to teacheconomics in high school. Since 1 September 2006, teachers must pass the GeorgiaAssessment for the Certification of Teachers test specifically in economics to teach in thefield. However, any teacher who had previously passed the Praxis II social studies test orthe Teacher Certification Test maintained certification to teach economics. A teacher couldhave passed any of these tests with no specific training in economics whatsoever. Withinthe economics profession, researchers have generally concluded there is a need to improvethe training of K12 economic educators.

    Much of the effort to offer in-service content training in economics comes from theNCEE. Consequently, much of the research focuses on its programs. As early as 1977,Thornton and Vredeveld noted that there is a common assumption that students of teacherswho had been recipients of in-service education benefit from their teachers increasedunderstanding of economics. In 1985, Walstad and Watts (1985) found that most organiza-tions involved in economic education make the general assumption that teacher training ineconomics has a direct impact on student output measured, for example, by test scores.By 1988, Baumol and Highsmith (1988) recognized that the issue is much more compli-cated than others had previously stated. There has been a considerable need to determine themajor influences on the effectiveness of teaching programs in high school economics. LikeAngrist and Lavy (2001) and Jacob and Lefgren (2004), researchers in economic educationhave struggled with the appropriate design of experiments to isolate the effect of in-servicetraining.

    Highsmith (1974), as one of the earliest empirical researchers to examine in-serviceeconomic education for teachers, designed his experiment by comparing the student resultson the Test of Economic Understanding between students of teachers who had attendedtraining workshops to students of teachers who did not attend workshops. Thorton and

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    Vredeveld (1977) used a similar experimental design. Schober (1984) refined the previousapproaches by adding a pre-test to his experiment. This allowed him to control for pre-existing knowledge, which other studies had ignored. Walstad (1979) introduced the notionthat workshops and other in-service training programs may do more than provide informa-tion for teachers. They may change teachers attitudes toward economics. Therefore, headdressed a simultaneity issue of both workshops and teacher attitudes affecting studentachievement. This innovation becomes important as other researchers started to look atsimultaneity and selection issues within educational production functions. For example,Grimes (1995) addressed the...

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