The teacher shuffle: getting the best teachers where they're most needed

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An op-ed in the Washington Post last Friday explained the need for legislation to incentivize highly-effective teachers to transfer to high-need schools. One commenter had a particularly poignant take-away: we should recognize that teaching in Ward 3 is a different job than teaching in Wards 7 and 8.

For those of you not familiar with Washington, D.C., Ward 3 is wealthier and more educated than Wards 7 and 8. And, as the op-ed authors explain: "Of 663 D.C. teachers rated 'highly effective' on the most recent round of the IMPACT evaluations, just 71 work in the 41 schools in Wards 7 and 8, compared with 135 in the 10 schools in Ward 3."

Some may dispute the fairness of the IMPACT system, but the fact remains that high-need schools are disproportionately forced to hire brand new teachers. This is the case for a number of reasons, but primarily because these schools generally have higher turnover rates, and therefore more vacancies each year that are filled by those entering the workforce. High-need students are actually twice as likely to have first-year teachers, and unfortunately for them, research shows that first and second year teachers' average performance pales in comparison to their more experienced counterparts.

Teaching in a high-need school is a different job than teaching in a wealthier school. The need, and the responsibility, is greater. Compensation systems need the flexibility to accommodate these forces. That is what the D.C. Council is trying to do, and what a federally funded program called the Talent Transfer Initiative (TTI) has been working on. TTI was designed as an experiment, and an interim report is out with preliminary findings.

Working in seven large and economically diverse districts across the country, TTI offered the top 20 percent of teachers (as measured by value-added) $20,000 over two years to transfer to a high-need school, or a $10,000 retention bonus if they were already there. The interim report analyzed the details of the transfer model itself, as well as the effects of the transfers on teacher relationships within the high-need schools, and resource use, such as mentoring.

The program intensively recruited teachers and facilitated the interview and placement process. Ultimately, 63 of the 70 identified vacancies at the high-need schools were filled with transfer candidates, with 49 (70 percent) filled by the end of June.

Once settled into their new positions, these high-performing teachers not only required less mentoring than the teachers who normally take those positions, they actually provided mentoring to their peers. And according to principal surveys, teaching teams that included transfer teachers didn't exhibit any signs of distrust or decreased morale, as indicated by levels of collaboration and resource allocation.

The TTI preliminary results sound promising. Stay tuned for the final report that will review the experiments impact on student achievement and teacher retention.

Laura Johnson