The problems and pitfalls of moving around teacher talent

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Will great teachers still be great if they're moved to lower-performing schools?

That intriguing question is the subject of a large, $10 million federal (IES) study to be conducted by Mathematica. Referred to as the Talent Transfer Initiative, the study is looking at results in seven school districts: Houston, Tucson, Winston-Forsyth County (NC), Guilford County (NC), Knox County (TN), Mobile County (AL), and as previously reported here, Charlotte-Mecklenberg.

High-performing teachers in these districts are all being offered $20,000 bonuses courtesy of federal grant dollars, paid out over two years, if they agree to teach in low-performing schools for those two years.

One of the lessons learned in Charlotte, which has two year's head start on the other six districts, is that this work requires a team approach and not just any school will do. Star teachers in Charlotte were reluctant to take a new assignment without the district also agreeing to assign a new star principal as well. In Houston, multiple high-performing teachers are all being placed in the same school so that they have a peer support network. In Tucson, the district selected the schools not just because they were considered low performing, but also because they were considered to be on the upswing.

Some of the districts are also finding that their talent may be spread too thin. Houston and Knox County have found themselves transferring teachers among schools that differ only a little in their demographics or achievement.