Students Achieve More with Teachers Who Take Personal Responsibility for Student Learning

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Teachers who take personal responsibility for student learning can improve student achievement, according to Laura LoGerfo, an education researcher at the Urban Institute. Her peer-reviewed study of first-grade teachers reveals that students with a highly responsible teacher can see a 3 percent increase in their yearly achievement gain.

LoGerfo found that teachers who believe that children should know basic reading skills before reaching first grade are less likely to hold themselves accountable for student learning. And she found that the less financially well-off a teacher's students are, the less responsibility the teacher takes for their learning.

Surprisingly, teacher certification and experience, two of the cornerstones of NCLB's "highly qualified" teacher requirement, were not determiners of committed teachers. In fact, teachers who have completed more coursework in education showed a slightly weaker sense of responsibility than those with less coursework.

Supportive administrative leadership made a substantial difference as to whether teachers held themselves accountable for student learning. Teachers in small schools with less than a 50 percent minority enrollment had a greater sense of responsibility for student learning; teachers in Catholic schools showed a higher commitment than their public school counterparts.

LoGerfo defined teacher responsibility as a willingness by the teacher to accept blame for students' negative outcomes as well as credit for positive outcomes.

"Rather than attribute poor grades or low test scores to faults within students or deficits in their backgrounds, responsible teachers attribute much of the cause to their own efforts and behavior," explains LoGerfo.

For her study, LoGerfo drew on data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K), the only national data set that links information on teachers' attitudes to student outcomes. It is based on periodic surveys that track information on a nationally representative sample of elementary school students, their teachers, and the 1,280 public and private schools they attend.

Read about how teachers who take responsibility for student outcomes make a difference in "Climb Every Mountain" in the summer issue of Education Next (

Laura LoGerfo is a research associate at the Urban Institute's Education Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

Education Next is a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution that is committed to looking at hard facts about school reform. Other sponsoring institutions are the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.