Does professor quality matter?

Does professor quality matter? U.S. Air Force Academy students did better in introductory calculus classes taught by less experienced instructors without a PhD than in classes taught by senior professors, concludes a study (pdf) by Scott Carrell and James West in the Journal of Political Economy. But these students did worse in follow-on math and engineering classes.

The overall pattern of the results shows that students of less experienced and less qualified professors perform significantly better in the contemporaneous course being taught.  In contrast, the students of more experienced and more highly qualified introductory professors perform significantly better in the follow-on courses.

The academy was used because students are assigned randomly to professors in introductory and follow-on courses; professors use the same syllabi and exams,  and grade exams together.

One potential explanation for our results is that the less-experienced professors may teach more strictly to the regimented curriculum being tested, while the more experienced professors broaden the curriculum and produce students with a deeper understanding of the material….Another potential mechanism is that students may learn (good or bad) study habits depending on the manner in which their introductory course is taught. For example, introductory professors who “teach to the test” may induce students to exert less study effort in follow-on related courses.

Via Kevin Drum of Mother Jones and Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution.

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  1. This would seem to have profound implications for Arne Duncan’s merit pay dreams.


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