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New Report Finds Success in Transfers of High-Performing Teachers to Low-Achieving Schools

Good news: A new study shows that transferring highly effective teachers to low-performing elementary schools improves the achievement of students in those schools. The impact of the transferred teachers in this study was greater than the impact of Teach For America (TFA) teachers found in studies with similar student populations.

Mathematica conducted the multisite experimental study, in which highly effective teachers were offered $20,000 over 2 years to transfer into and remain in elementary and middle schools that had low average test scores. Teachers were considered highly effective if they were in the top 20% of their district based on 2 or more years of value-added data. The final sample of teachers in this Talent Transfer Initiative (TTI) included 81 teachers from 10 large and economically diverse school districts in seven states.

Nearly 83% of the TTI teachers in the sample were female; they had, on average, 12.5 years of teaching experience and a mean age of 42.6 years. Almost half (46.7%) had a master’s or doctorate degree, 20.8% were National Board Certified Teachers, and the majority (64%) graduated from a “competitive” or “very competitive” institution. The TTI teachers were 48.3% White, 28% Black, and 17% Hispanic.

The study compared the impact of TTI teachers versus the impact of regularly filled control positions. The results showed positive effects for the TTI teachers on elementary student achievement in reading and math in each of the 2 years after transfer, but no significant differences on middle school student achievement. On average, test results increased between 0.10 and 0.25 standard deviations relative to each elementary student’s state norms. This gain is equivalent to raising achievement by between 4 and 10 percentile points relative to all students in their state.

  • In Year 1, scores increased 0.18 standard deviations for math and 0.10 standard deviations for reading, equivalent to increases of 7 and 4 percentile points in test scores.
  • In Year 2, scores increased 0.22 standard deviations for math and 0.25 for reading, equivalent to increases of 9 and 10 percentile points in test scores.

The transfer incentive had a positive impact on teacher-retention rates as well. During the payout period, TTI teachers were retained at significantly higher rates than control group teachers, and a majority of the TTI teachers returned to the treatment schools after the incentive payments ended.

The study’s authors calculate this type of transfer incentive intervention in elementary schools would save approximately $13,000 per grade per school compared with the cost of class-size reduction programs aimed at generating the same impacts.

This study, one of a series of evaluation reports funded by the National Center for Education Evaluation at the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, is similar in design to another recent Mathematica study on the impact of teachers from two alternative routes, which showed that TFA teachers increased students’ tests scores by 0.07 standard deviations, or 3 percentile points higher than did comparison teachers. Another previous randomized study (Decker et al., 2004) comparing TFA with non-TFA teachers’ impact on elementary students showed no differences in reading achievement, and a 0.15 standard deviation increase in math scores for students of TFA teachers over students of non-TFA teachers. In general, the results of the TTI study show a greater positive impact of transfer teachers on student achievement than the impact of TFA teachers found in those reports.

To access the full report, visit http://ies.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=NCEE20144003.

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Alicia Ardila-Rey

Director of Research and Dissemination, AACTE