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Divergent Trends in U.S. Teacher Quality: 1980-2010

Richey, Jeremiah (2014): Divergent Trends in U.S. Teacher Quality: 1980-2010.

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This paper documents the changes in the ability distribution of individuals entering the teaching profession among individuals born between 1957-1964 and 1980-1984. This is done using the 1979 and 1997 cohorts of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth and a constructed Armed Force Qualifying Test score that allows direct comparison of ability between cohorts. Such direct comparisons between cohorts was previously not possible due to a lack of directly comparable measures of ability. I find there are minimal differences in ability between cohorts with the only significant difference being a small drop in ability around the 75th percentile of the conditional distribution. However, this similarity across cohorts masks vast differences in specific demographics. In particular, white women are of much lower ability in the 1997 cohort whereas minority women are of substantially higher ability. Moreover the gain in ability of female minority teachers is due to both a cohort improvement in ability and an increase in the within cohort ability of teachers. Puzzling is the significant negative trend in ability in the 1979 cohort which is not apparent between cohorts. This implies a likely `bottoming out' and rebound in teacher ability in the 1990s.

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