What Roles Do Teacher Traits Play in Teaching Economics?

October 22, 2015
teaching economics

How much do characteristics such as teacher experience and level of education matter when teaching students about economics?

In a paper forthcoming in the Southwestern Journal of Economics, Erin Yetter, a senior economic education specialist with the St. Louis Fed, examined the connections between teacher characteristics and student achievement in economics. Among the areas she examined via multiple regression analysis were:

  • Teachers’ level of education
  • Years of teaching experience
  • Type of teaching experience

Yetter used 2006 data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in economics. The NAEP had test results from more than 10,000 high school seniors as well as background information on both students and teachers.

Education Level

Yetter found that students of teachers with graduate degrees scored about two points higher than students of teachers with only bachelor’s degrees. However, a specific focus on economics—such as majoring or minoring in economics or taking undergraduate economics courses—did not seem to be a factor in student achievement.

Yetter wrote: “This finding is interesting because all of these variables would contribute to a teacher’s content knowledge in economics and is contrary to previous literature indicating that education in general is not as important as education specific to economics.”

Years of Experience

Yetter’s research showed that years of teaching experience had an effect, but only to a point. Students of teachers with five to nine years of experience scored about three points higher than students of teachers with less than five years of experience. However, having 10 years or more of teaching experience was not a significant predictor of student achievement.

Yetter noted: “A possible explanation for this result is that mid-level teachers are still new enough to the profession to benefit from their undergraduate training and still seek out ways to improve their economic content knowledge, whereas experienced teachers may have developed a routine for their course and be less likely to change their methods.”

Type of Experience

The type of experience teachers had also seemed to significantly predict student performance. Students of teachers with experience teaching combined government and economics courses scored about three points lower than students of teachers without such experience. Yetter noted: “This finding could be related to the fact that a government and economics course is an ‘infused’ course, which may not produce the type of economics learning that a standalone course in economics would.”

Regarding teachers with economics teaching experience:

  • Students of teachers with experience in teaching consumer economics scored about two points lower than students of teachers without such experience.
  • Students of teachers with experience teaching advanced placement economics scored about six points higher than students of teachers without such experience.

For both cases, Yetter suggested that, because the NAEP test is theory-based, a course heavier in theory (such as an advanced placement course) would contribute more positively to test results than a course more geared toward consumerism and decision-making.

Yetter concluded: “I find that a teacher’s education level, years of teaching experience and type of teaching experience are significant predictors of student achievement on the NAEP in economics.”

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