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.

A few studies that we’ll get to later do suggest teacher experience matters; almost nobody wants to claim certifications or degrees do much.

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Although they try to control for this, having a couple of quantifiable variables like race and income probably doesn’t entirely capture the complexities of neighborhood sorting by social class.

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

So far most of this is straightforward and uncontroversial.

Teachers account for about 10% of variance in student test scores, it’s hard to predict which teachers do better by their characteristics alone, and schools account for a little more but that might be confounded.

But they all agree pretty well that individual factors are most important, followed by school and teacher factors of roughly equal size.

Teacher factors explain somewhere between 5% and 20% of the variance.

The American Statistical Association summarizes the research as “teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores”, which seems about right.

So put more simply – on average, individual students’ level of grit is what makes the difference.

Good schools and teachers may push that a little higher, and bad ones bring it a little lower, but they don’t work miracles.

(remember that right now we’re talking about same-year standardized test scores.

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.