Returns to Teacher Experience in Early Career Years


Research has documented that the returns to additional years of teacher experience are relatively small after the first five to seven years of a teacher’s career. During the first couple of years in the classroom, many teachers appear to be relatively ineffective at producing test score gains. Teachers tend to improve their effectiveness during the first three to seven years of their careers, but after a certain point, the return to experience levels off. This suggests that there is very little relationship between changes in teacher value-added and additional experience after an initial period.

Anecdotally, it seems that teachers either sink or swim during this early period—that is, for some teachers we see little improvement over the first few years, while for others there is a relatively dramatic improvement. Some have hypothesized that a great deal of learning to teach occurs “on the job”, and it simply takes time to discover how to manage classroom dynamics and teach effectively. This explanation highlights the fact that, while we consistently observe large variance in the quality of teachers, little is known about what factors produce this variability, nor how to systematically produce high quality teachers. We expect that some teachers will simply rise to the challenge of classroom teaching, while others will discover that they are not well-suited to the profession. Why some teachers appear to excel in their early careers while others do not is not well understood.

This project examines this early period of teachers’ careers in which they typically exhibit the highest returns to experience. We are particularly interested in whether any factors account for this variability, such as the quality of a pre-teaching preparation program, or the characteristics of her first school, colleagues, or principal. The current phase Returns to Teacher Experience in Early Career Years uses administrative data on teachers in New York City to examine the patterns in returns to experience during the early years of a teaching career. We examine the variability in teachers’ initial (first year) effectiveness, mean rates of improvement during the first two to seven years, as well as variability in improvement rates during that time. Finally, we use data on each teacher’s formal preparation and placement into the New York City public school system to probe potential factors that are related to initial effectiveness, as well as improvements over time.

Associated Faculty

Non-UVA Faculty

  • Allison Atteberry, University of Colorado-Boulder