Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Speaking the same language – The effect of foreign origin teachers on students’ language skills

Presentation by Lisa Höckel, RWI, Ruhr University Bochum


Population diversity arising from international migration does not only affect the labor market, but also its training ground – the classroom. While the economics literature studies the large and persistent achievement gap between native and foreign origin students, surprisingly little is known about the effect of having a foreign origin teacher on students’ academic achievements. In this study, I investigate whether having a foreign origin teacher causally affects the language skills of students in German secondary school, holding constant both observed and unobserved factors related to academic outcomes. Exploring within-student variation in assignment to teachers, due to student mobility and teacher turnover, I am the first to show that foreign origin teachers significantly increase the reading comprehension of students. Most notable is the positive effect of foreign origin teachers who report a mother tongue other than German. They increase reading comprehension scores universally. Ruling out alternative explanations, I argue that bilingual teachers are particularly well-equipped in teaching languages to both native and foreign origin students.