The dictum states: Teacher quality is the single most important in-school factor for student achievement. The corollary goes: It’s hard to staff low-income schools with high-bar teachers. Thus: Students who need the strongest teachers often do not get them. This recent Institute of Education Sciences report, using data from seven large urban districts that participated in its two-year Talent Transfer Initiative (TTI), analyzes whether school districts can incentivize top-tier teachers to transfer into chronically low-performing schools. TTI recruited districts’ top 20 percent of elementary and middle school teachers (based on two years of value-added scores). It offered each potential participant $20,000 in added pay (awarded over the course of two years) if he or she transferred to and remained in an identified low-performing school. (Retention bonuses of $10,000 were also awarded to upper-echelon teachers already in low-performing schools.) Most eligible teachers did not apply to participate in the TTI program. Of this group, 29 percent cited their lack of confidence in teaching in a low-performing school as reason not to transfer. A quarter stated that $20,000 was not a large enough incentive. Still, the 24 percent who did apply (and were subsequently placed by principals) filled 90 percent of the vacancies at the low-performing schools. The report offers much more by way of descriptive analysis (those who participated in TTI, for example, were more likely to be African American, unmarried, or unsatisfied with their previous schools’ policies). But it stops there. Those curious as to how the transfers affected student achievement in the receiving schools will have to wait until the next report in this series. Yet even these preliminary data suggest that it is possible to incentivize top teachers to move into needy schools.

Steven Glazerman,Steven, Ali Protik, Bing-ru Teh, Julie Bruch, Neil Seftor, Moving Teachers: Implementation of Transfer Incentives in Seven Districts (Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research, 2012).

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