Are Tenure Track Professors Better Teachers?

by David N. Figlio, Morton O. Schapiro, Kevin B. Soter – #19406 (CH ED LS)


This study makes use of detailed student-level data from eight
cohorts of first-year students at Northwestern University to
investigate the relative effects of tenure track/tenured versus
non-tenure line faculty on student learning. We focus on classes
taken during a student’s first term at Northwestern, and employ a
unique identification strategy in which we control for both
student-level fixed effects and next-class-taken fixed effects to
measure the degree to which non-tenure line faculty contribute more
or less to lasting student learning than do other faculty. We find
consistent evidence that students learn relatively more from
non-tenure line professors in their introductory courses. These
differences are present across a wide variety of subject areas, and
are particularly pronounced for Northwestern’s average students and
less-qualified students.

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8 years ago

As a short summary and observation, here are the conditions for which this holds and what I think:
1) You have an average high school system compared to many countries
2) Some students don’t learn much in it
3) You have very low staff-student ratios (8:1)
4) You have undemanding undergraduate courses like most US unis.
5) If you use full-time teaching staff (c.f., casual contract staff), they can get the poor performing students up, presumably because they are trying to help them learn really basic stuff (literacy, mathematics) which they missed out on learning in high school.

As far as can tell, apart from (3), which can only be done by charging students 50K a year which most of the good private unis in the US now do, this was basically a function performed a lot by TAFEs in Australia before state governments decided to cut them back. So now instead we get lots of kids that presumably could have done better in uni if given a better pathway of entry or special help which no unis can afford to give in Aus.