Talent Transfer Initiative: Attracting and Retaining High-Performing Teachers in Low-Performing Schools
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Research shows that high quality teachers are critical to raising student achievement, but the schools whose students are struggling the most can face challenges attracting and retaining highly effective teachers. Although the nature of the problem is well documented, more empirical research is needed to understand whether specific interventions can successfully recruit and retain effective teachers to work in low-performing schools.
Mathematica was selected by the U.S. Department of Education to design and carry out a study of one approach that uses selective teacher transfer incentives in school districts around the country. Known as the Talent Transfer Initiative, the intervention identified a district’s highest-performing teachers and offered them incentives for moving to and staying in its low-performing schools for at least two years. High-performing teachers were defined as those with the highest value added scores over three years, where value added is a measure of teachers’ estimated impact on student test scores, taking into account their students background and prior achievement. Low-performing schools were defined as those with the lowest test scores in the district. The study focused on reading/language arts and math instruction in grades 3 to 8. The intervention was pilot tested in one district, where it was known as Project RISE, and was scaled up to include seven districts for the 2009-2010 school year and three more starting in the 2010-2011 school year.
Using a rigorous design, the study addressed the following questions:
- Will a large financial incentive ($20,000 paid out over two years) encourage high-performing teachers to transfer to selected low-performing schools in their district?
- Will the high-performing teachers who transfer to low-performing schools be successful in raising the achievement of their students in the new setting?
- Will the high-performing teachers who transfer to low-achieving schools remain after the payments have ended?
How TTI Worked
Teacher identification and recruitment. High-performing teachers within a district were identified by the contribution they made to students’ test scores using “value-added” analysis. High-performing teachers who were not already teaching at low-performing schools were invited to apply. Those already teaching in such schools were offered retention incentives.
School identification and recruitment. The study team worked with district personnel to identify eligible schools. To be eligible, schools must have had low test scores and a vacancy in a tested grade and subject. Principals of eligible schools were invited to sign up for the program. In each district, an average of eight schools were selected and given a chance to hire at least one high-performing teacher.
Transfer support. Site managers with The New Teacher Project (TNTP) worked with local district staff to create opportunities for principals to interview high-performing teachers and help with the transfer process.
Teacher benefits. High-performing teachers who accepted new positions in the low-performing schools received a stipend of $10,000 per year for up to two years. High-performing teachers who kept their current positions in low-performing schools received a stipend of $5,000 per year for up to two years.
Was the Program Effective?
Almost 9 out of 10 targeted vacancies (88 percent) were filled by the highest-performing teachers through TTI. In elementary schools, TTI had a positive impact on math and reading test scores. In middle schools, there was no evidence that the intervention raised test scores. Combining the elementary and middle school data, the overall impacts were positive and statistically significant for math in both of the two years that we followed up, and for reading only in the second year.
After the first year, when TTI teachers were still receiving payments for remaining in their schools, teachers in the TTI group returned to their schools at significantly higher rates than their control group counterparts, 93 versus 71 percent. After the second year, the payments had stopped, a majority of TTI group teachers were still in their schools.
"Do Disadvantaged Students Get Less Effective Teaching?" (January 2014) Brief | Technical Appendix
“Transfer Incentives for High-Performing Teachers: Final Results from a Multisite Randomized Experiment” (November 2013) Full Report | Executive Summary
"Moving High-Performing Teachers: Implementation of Transfer Incentives in Seven Districts" (April 2012) Full Report | Executive Summary
"Do Low-Income Students Have Equal Access to the Highest Performing Teachers?" (April 2011) Research Brief |