"The claim that experience doesn’t matter is flat-out wrong."–Matthew Di Carlo
I don’t know about you, but I want an experienced airline pilot in command when I fly home in a few days. I also want an experienced physician and an experienced dentist. In fact, I can’t think of any set of circumstance in which a lack of experience would be an advantage. When it came to my children’s teachers, whether it was in elementary, middle, or high school, and even college, I wanted an experienced, skilled teacher. Come to think of it, I have never heard a teacher claim that he or she was a better teacher in year one than in year five.
Enter the omniscient Mr. Bill Gates, who would never dare hire inexperienced software engineers at Mircrosoft or have his child in school with commoners and inexperienced teachers, but who would try to convince us average citizens that, not only doesn’t experience in teaching matter, but it is a liability.
I don’t ever recall so-called experts in any field claim that additional training was unnecessary. I have always found it ironic that the first cuts to education budgets are always professional education. What does that say about how we value education?
Think about it, budget cuts result in fewer teachers teaching more students. That means that, just to maintain the status quo, we need to increase teacher productivity. So, what do we do? Instead of increasing training to enhance the skills of teachers and principals, we tie their hands behind their backs by cutting professional development and then we motivate them by threatening to fire them if test scores don’t improve.
Research Doesn’t Matter?
Ironically the same folks–Gates and Duncan–who insist that others adhere to research-based practices don’t read the research unless the research supports their preconceived notions of what needs to be done? Remember the last silver bullet, small schools? How did that go?
What does the research really say? Special thanks to Matthew Di Carlo who provides practitioners with an excellent synopsis of research that consistently demonstrates that experience matters a great deal in the early years on the job (also see here, here, here and here). Here are some of the highlights:
Returns to experience are strongest in the first year of teaching.
After the first year, the rate of improvement starts to level off quickly – usually stagnating within about 4-5 years after which there is a leveling off.
Beyond the fifth year, most teachers tend to remain relatively stable in terms of their effects on student test scores (though a very large proportion leaves the profession before that point).
"The effect of experience on teacher productivity may also be mediated by the quality of their peers in the same school – i.e., that novice teachers with more effective peers in the same school do better."
There is strong evidence that experience matters less – or less consistently – in poorer schools (also see here), which could be attributed to increased turnover in under-resourced schools and more student mobility.
Math teachers seem to improve more quickly (and consistently) than reading teachers.
Teachers who remain in the same grade for multiple years also improve more quickly.
"Experience is actually one of the very few observable teacher characteristics that is consistently correlated with achievement, and its effect is among the strongest, especially for some sub-groups, such as elementary school and math teachers.
Even those who think the magnitude of these returns is not commensurate with the role of experience in education policy cannot dispute that it is still a proven signal of quality, at least during the early years of teachers’ careers. And it is virtually certain that teachers also improve in other ways that don’t show up in their students’ test scores."
The Bottom Line
Experience does matter in teaching and in leading schools. We need to invest more in education–the education of our teachers and principals–so that we can increase their individual and collective capacity to raise the achievement of each and every student. Let’s do for other peoples’ children what we would want done for our own children. Let’s give them the most experienced and skilled teachers and principals possible.