The 'Pupil' Factory: Specialization and the Production of Human Capital in Schools
Starting in the 2013-2014 school year, I conducted a randomized field experiment in fifty traditional public elementary schools in Houston, Texas designed to test the potential productivity benefits of teacher specialization in schools. Treatment schools altered their schedules to have teachers specialize in a subset of subjects in which they have demonstrated relative strength (based on value-add measures and principal observations). The average impact of teacher specialization on student achievement is -0.042 standard deviations in math and -0.034 standard deviations in reading, per year. Students enrolled in special education and those with younger teachers demonstrated marked negative results. I argue that the results are consistent with a model in which the benefits of specialization driven by sorting teachers into a subset of subjects based on comparative advantage is outweighed by inefficient pedagogy due to having fewer interactions with each student. Consistent with this, specialized teachers report providing less attention to individual students (relative to non-specialized teachers), though other mechanisms are possible.
I thank Terry Grier and Andrew Houlihan, for help and guidance in conducting the experiment. I am grateful to Will Dobbie, Richard Holden, Simon Jaeger, Andrei Shleifer, Jörg Spenkuch, and Chad Syverson for helpful comments and suggestions. Meghan Howard and Rucha Vankudre provided exceptional project management oversight. Tanaya Devi, Lisa Phillips, and Brecia Young provided excellent research assistance. Financial Support from Eli Broad and the Edlab’s Advisory Group is gratefully acknowledged. Correspondence can be addressed to the author by email at email@example.com. The usual caveat applies. The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
- In a field experiment in Houston public schools, after two years students with specialized teachers lagged about a month behind those...