** Also posted here on “Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet” in the Washington Post.
The topic of teacher experience is getting a lot of attention in education debates. In part, this makes sense, since experience (years of service) does play several important roles in education policy, including teachers’ raises and transfer/layoff policies.
Usually, experience is discussed in terms of its relationship to performance –whether more experienced teachers produce larger student test score gains than less experienced teachers. There is a pretty impressive body of research on this topic, the findings of which are sometimes used to argue for policy changes that eliminate the role of experience in salary and other employment policies. Proponents of these changes often argue that experience is only weakly related to performance, and therefore shouldn’t be used in determining salary and other conditions of work. It is not unusual to hear people say that experience doesn’t matter at all.
As is often the case when empirical research finds its way into policy debates, the “weakly related” characterization of the findings on the experience/achievement relationship borders on oversimplification, while the claim that experience doesn’t matter is flat-out wrong. The relationship is substantial but context-dependent, and blanket statements about it often hide as much as they reveal.