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Impacts of school management and teaching on student performance


The Danish Government and Parliament want to improve educational performance but there is very little evidence on how to accomplish this. SFI has been asked to assist in providing some evidence by examining the impact of school management and teaching on student performance in lower secondary education.

Whereas international research shows that several aspects of school management and teaching can improve student performance, we cannot be sure that these findings also apply in a Danish setting. According to international comparative research by e.g. Hofstedte, Danes have an extremely low power-distance implying that they have less respect for authority. This might be relevant for relations between school principals, teachers, and students.

Interrelated research projects on school management, teaching, and student performance

To provide more evidence on how school management and teachers can improve student performance, SFI has started a series of connected research projects. The first and largest project is being funded by the Danish Strategic Research Council with a DKK 15 million grant. The project includes qualitative field studies based on personal interviews and observation as well as quantitative studies. The latter are based on nationwide surveys in the spring of 2011 of school principals, teachers in Danish and maths at the 9th grade level, students at the same level and their parents, as well as rich administrative register data on students’ test scores and their social background. The project is being run by SFI with me as principal investigator and in collaboration with scholars at SFI, Aarhus University, and two international experts on school and public management, Professor Kenneth Meier from Texas A&M University and Professor Laurence O’Toole Jr. from the University of Georgia. The project runs from 2010 until 2015.

In addition, the Danish Advisory School Committee, which gives advice on primary and secondary education to the Ministry of Children and Education, has asked SFI to perform two studies on how school managements and teachers affect student performance in municipal schools. Most data for these studies have been collected for the major project above.

Students perform better in schools with a managerial focus on professional qualifications

A report for the Committee on the impact of school management was published in December 2011. This report - and later research papers - show that the key to improving student performance is a managerial focus on professional qualifications among teachers and students. Thus the following factors seem to increase student performance:

  • The school manager has some – but not necessarily much - management training in addition to their teacher training.
  • The school has substantial autonomy regarding teaching methods
  • The school culture among teachers focuses strongly on professional qualifications
  • Teachers cooperate in teams – particularly teams of subject teachers around each class of students. Such teams seem to improve the performance of students with a low or medium social status, probably because such coordination better targets the teaching of individual students with learning problems.
  • The school manager emphasizes teachers’ professional qualifications, e.g. from colleges of education when recruiting teachers
  • The school manager avoids using economic incentives for recognising and motivating teachers. Danish teachers appear to be so intrinsicly motivated that extrinsic incentives may backfire
  • The school manager is involved in pedagogical issues and performs instructional leadership requiring teachers to use certain pedagogical methods. However, this impact is conditioned by a strong professional interaction among teachers – and applies only to students with a relative strong social background.

The study measures school management using survey data from both managers and teachers and employ multilevel modelling. One caveat is that the time-frame for the study forced us to use student test scores that were achieved before (2009-2010) the surveys on management were conducted in 2011.

What kinds of teachers obtain best student performance?

SFI’s latest and current study for the Advisory School Committee focuses on the impact of teachers and their teaching on student performance in 2011. The study examines the impacts of the following factors on performance:

  • Teachers’ background, including qualifications, gender and experience
  • Teacher resources and teaching time
  • Teaching practices, including teaching methods and teacher types
  • Teachers’ motivation
  • Teacher collaboration
  • Social classroom climate
  • Students’ homework

The study uses qualitative data from interviews and observations of teachers at six high performing and low performing schools as well as quantitative data analysis. We measure teaching using survey data from both teachers and students and employ school fixed-effect regression analysis. We control for students’ socio-economic background (SES) as well as examine if certain teaching practices have diverse performance effects on students with a strong vs. weak social background.

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