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Even though these “school level effects” are supposed to be things like “the school is well-funded” or “the school has a great principal”, I worry that they’re capturing student effects by accident.

That is, if you go to a school where everyone else is a rich white kid, chances are that means you’re a rich white kid yourself.

I’m not able to access these studies directly, but according to the site of the US Assistant Secretary of Education: The most robust finding in the research literature is the effect of teacher verbal and cognitive ability on student achievement.

Every study that has included a valid measure of teacher verbal or cognitive ability has found that it accounts for more variance in student achievement than any other measured characteristic of teachers (e.g., Greenwald, Hedges, & Lane, 1996; Ferguson & Ladd, 1996; Kain & Singleton, 1996; Ehrenberg & Brewer, 1994).

The Goldhaber study above tries its best, but the only school-level variable they can pin down is that having lots of white kids in your school improves test scores.

And as far as I can tell, they don’t look at socioeconomic status of the school or its neighborhood, which is probably what the white kids are serving as a proxy for.

In terms of observable teacher-level effects, the only one they can find that makes a difference is gender (female teachers are better).

Newspapers report that having a better teacher for even a single grade (for example, a better fourth-grade teacher) can improve a child’s lifetime earning prospects by ,000.

Meanwhile, behavioral genetics studies suggest that a child’s parents have minimal (non-genetic) impact on their future earnings.

Teacher certification, years of experience, certification, degrees, et cetera have no effect.

This is consistent with most other research, such as Miller, Mc Kenna, and Mc Kenna (1998).

So far most of this is straightforward and uncontroversial.

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