Poor teachers may hamper good students: U.S. study

Thu Apr 22, 2010 4:45pm EDT
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An unusual genetic study supports the argument that good teachers make a difference and shows that poor teachers may do damage, even to gifted students, researchers said on Thursday.

The study, published in the journal Science, showed that effective teachers help kids with the best genes read better, while poor teachers brought down all the children in a classroom to the same mediocre level.

The findings by behavioral geneticist Jeanette Taylor at Florida State University and colleagues could influence the debate in Congress, the White House and school districts across the United States about measuring the quality in schools.

"In circumstances where the teachers are all excellent, the variability in student reading achievement may appear to be largely due to genetics. However, poor teaching impedes the ability of children to reach their potential," Taylor and colleagues concluded.

To tease out the effects of genes and environment, the researchers turned to the time-tested model of twins. Identical twins share all their DNA, while fraternal twins share about half, or as much as any brother or sister.

Their theory: if one identical twin does better than his or her sibling in a different classroom, much of the difference must be due to the teacher.

They studied 280 identical twin pairs and 526 fraternal twin pairs in the first and second grades from a diverse selection of Florida schools.

To determine teacher quality, they used Oral Reading Fluency test scored for the entire classroom of each twin.

"(It's) a timed measure of how many words children can read in a passage," Taylor said in a Science podcast.   Continued...

<p>A child uses an abacus during the National Abacus Mental and Arithmetical Skills contest in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad September 2, 2007. REUTERS/Krishnendu Halder</p>