Talent Transfer Initiative: Attracting and Retaining High-Performing Teachers in Low-Performing Schools

Prepared for
U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences
U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Evaluation

Research shows that high quality teachers are critical to raising student achievement, but struggling schools face challenges attracting and retaining highly effective teachers. What specific interventions can help low-performing schools successfully recruit and retain high-performing teachers? Mathematica was selected by the U.S. Department of Education to evaluate one approach that uses selective teacher transfer incentives in school districts around the country.

Known as the Talent Transfer Initiative (TTI), 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 those with the highest value-added scores over three years. 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, then scaled up to include seven districts for the 2009–2010 school year and three more starting in the 2010–2011 school year. The researchers examined whether providing large financial incentives ($20,000 paid out over two years) would encourage high-performing teachers to transfer to selected low-performing schools, whether those teachers would be successful at improving student achievement, and whether they would remain at the school after the payments 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 from The New Teacher Project (TNTP) worked with local district staff to create opportunities for principals to interview high-performing teachers and to 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?

Nearly 9 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 follow-up years, 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, when the payments had stopped, most TTI group teachers were still in their schools.

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