Putting a dollar value on a good school

It is often said that schools have little impact on individual student outcomes. Despite the perpetually high rankings of some schools and occasional dramatic turn-arounds of others, we keep hearing that all things being equal, all schools are equal.

Academic accomplishment is supposedly a matter of a child’s socio-economic background, how many books are in the home, the parents’ education level, and so on. In other words, high achieving parents produce high-achieving children regardless of the educational environment. Rarely is a school’s outperformance acknowledged as the work of the staff.

But parents intuitively know that a good school can make a huge difference. Probably because we all went to school ourselves. Usually more than one. And we all remember the most effective teachers, the school counsellor who truly understood kids, the principal who ran a tight ship — or not. We know how we were shaped by the schools we attended and we know what we want a school to do for our children.

Our faith in the power of a good school is not misplaced. US research shows that proficient teachers lift more than test scores. They also lift lifetime earnings.

A US National Bureau of Economic Research analysis of more than 1 million individual tax records, sorted by school district, found that teachers who improved academic results also had a long-term positive influence on their students.

Data showed that just one year of skillful teaching produced students who were more likely to finish school, attend university, and earn higher salaries relative to their cohort. Ten years after graduation, those students were earning 1.3% more in annual income, which, in this sample, was projected to add $US39,000 to their lifetime earnings.

The cumulative effect of a series of talented teachers on individual incomes was outside the scope of this study. But it seems self-evident that the more students achieve, the greater the benefit to their career prospects and future earning capacity.

Education experts explain the ongoing effect of transformative teaching as being about more than knowledge acquisition. To help students significantly improve their grades, teachers have to instil a range of non-cognitive skills in their students, such as self-discipline, perseverance and resilience, which also help children to achieve greater success in adulthood.

High-performing teachers can’t operate in isolation though. They need school leadership that supports them to efficiently manage classroom behaviour so they can nurture those vital non-cognitive skills. They need skilled ancillary staff to maintain high levels of student wellbeing and the time and resources to attend to individual learning needs of students.

It’s a team effort and the results speak for themselves. Good schools lay the foundation for children to grow into successful adults — and it all starts with great teaching.


Measuring the Impacts of Teachers II: Teacher Value-Added and Student Outcomes in Adulthood —  Raj Chetty, John N. Friedman & Jonah E. Rockoff, US National Bureau of Economic Research, 2014


Putting a dollar value on a good school
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Author: Mindy Laube

Mindy Laube is a creative content specialist with a strong background in digital and print journalism gained over a 14-year career at the Sydney Morning Herald. You can find her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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