Fear and Loathing in the Classroom: Why Does Teacher Quality Matter?

48 Pages Posted: 20 Jan 2021

See all articles by Mike Insler

Mike Insler

United States Naval Academy - Department of Economics

Alexander F. McQuoid

Independent

Ahmed Rahman

Lehigh University - Department of Economics

Katherine A. Smith

U.S. Naval Academy

Abstract

This work disentangles aspects of teacher quality that impact student learning and performance. We exploit detailed data from post-secondary education that links students from randomly assigned instructors in introductory-level courses to the students' performances in follow-on courses for a wide variety of subjects. For a range of first-semester courses, we have both an objective score (based on common exams graded by committee) and a subjective grade provided by the instructor. We find that instructors who help boost the common final exam scores of their students also boost their performance in the follow-on course. Instructors who tend to give out easier subjective grades however dramatically hurt subsequent student performance. Exploring a variety of mechanisms, we suggest that instructors harm students not by "teaching to the test," but rather by producing misleading signals regarding the difficulty of the subject and the "soft skills" needed for college success. This effect is stronger in non-STEM fields, among female students, and among extroverted students. Faculty that are well-liked by students—and thus likely prized by university administrators—and considered to be easy have particularly pernicious effects on subsequent student performance.

JEL Classification: I20, I21, I23, J24

Suggested Citation

Insler, Michael and McQuoid, Alexander F. and Rahman, Ahmed and Smith, Katherine A., Fear and Loathing in the Classroom: Why Does Teacher Quality Matter?. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3767273 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3767273

Michael Insler

United States Naval Academy - Department of Economics ( email )

589 McNair Road
Annapolis, MD 21402
United States

Alexander F. McQuoid

Independent

Ahmed Rahman (Contact Author)

Lehigh University - Department of Economics ( email )

620 Taylor Street
Bethlehem, PA 18015
United States

Katherine A. Smith

U.S. Naval Academy ( email )

121 Blake Road
Annapolis, MD 21402-5000
United States

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