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An Experimental Investigation of the Determinants of Teacher Quality: Risk, Patience or Altruism?

In seeking to develop a strong national workforce to support its long-term economic development, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has placed an exceptional amount of emphasis on improving the quality of education. Nevertheless, public school students continue to perform poorly compared to their counterparts in international assessments such as the Program on International Student Achievement (PISA), Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) (International Association for the Evaluation of Education Achievement [IEA], 2011; Mullis, Martin, Foy, & Drucker, 2012; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD], 2013; Ridge, 2014). In addition, a segregated learning environment in which male, non-Emirati teachers teach boys and female, Emirati teachers teach girls has allowed for girls to outperform their male peers in every subject on both national and international school assessments (IEA, 2011; Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research [MOHESR], 2015).

One possible factor that could account for these gendered differences in student achievement is widely believed to be teacher quality. However, existing research has found only weak or inconsistent relationships between traditional, observable measures of teacher quality, such as teacher content knowledge; years of experience; education levels, with student achievement (Darling-Hammond, 2000; Muñoz & Chang, 2007). To date there has been very little existing research that examines the impact of unobservable teacher characteristics such as teacher behavior on student achievement. This working paper therefore presents the results of research that extends the existing literature on the relationship between teacher characteristics and student achievement by exploring the impact of unobservable teacher characteristics (in this case behavioral traits) on student achievement in English.

Using lab-in-the-field experiments, 118 teachers in the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah participated in risk, patience, and altruism tasks. Results suggested that female teachers were more risk- averse (less-polarized distributions), patient, and altruistic than male teachers. Moreover, we found that students of risk-averse teachers had higher scores on average than their risk-seeking counterparts. Finally, risk-seeking and impatience had a more detrimental impact on student achievement for the students of male teachers (boys) than for the students of female teachers (girls). With these findings in mind, we see a need for a larger study to further assess the impact of the nationality segregated nature of the UAE’s teaching sector on teacher behavior, and on the relationship between teacher behaviors and students’ performance. We also recommend a review of expatriate teacher employment terms and of national teacher incentives to equalize the working conditions of teachers in boys’ and girls’ schools and to attract and retain Emiratis (both males and females) to enter the teaching profession in order to improve overall student achievement.

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