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Evaluation Studies of the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance

Impact Evaluation Of Moving High-Performing Teachers to Low-Performing Schools

Contractor: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.; The New Teacher Project; Optimal Solutions Group

Background/Research Questions:

Title II, Part A, the Improving Teacher State Formula Grants program, is the primary federal funding under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to support a high quality teacher in every classroom. The program, funded at $2.5 billion in FY12, targets high poverty districts and funds a broad array of allowable activities including recruitment, retention, and merit-based teacher pay strategies.

Research indicates that high quality teachers are critical to raising student achievement in low-performing schools, but schools most in need often have difficulty in attracting and retaining high-quality teachers. This evaluation studies implementation of a policy, known to participating study school districts as the Talent Transfer Initiative (TTI), that provides incentives to identified high value-added teachers to teach in low-performing schools with high-need students. The research questions are:

  • What can we learn from the implementation of TTI? Specifically, what can we learn about timing and scale of implementation, who transfers, and from where they transfer?
  • What were the intermediate impacts on participating schools? Specifically, how did TTI affect the dynamics within the school, such as the allocation of resources, staffing patterns, assignment of students to teachers and courses, and school climate?
  • What was TTI's impact on student test scores?
  • What was TTI's impact on teacher retention?


The study was conducted in 10 school districts (168 school-grade teams in 112 schools) and the design consisted of segmenting the schools within districts to those eligible and not eligible for the treatment (the pay incentive). The treatment eligible schools were randomly assigned to receive the treatment or not. Using value added, high-performing teachers teaching in the non-eligible schools were identified. The two-year treatment, conducted in school years 2009–10 and 2010–11 (in 7 of the districts) and 2010–11 and 2012 (in an additional 3 districts), consisted of hiring among the pool of those identified as high performing and interested in teaching in the treatment schools. The control schools followed normal hiring practices. Program transfer teachers received a transfer incentive of $10,000 for each of the two years that they remained in the treatment school. Existing teachers in study eligible schools that met program criteria and remained in their school received a retention payment of $5,000 a year. Data collection included measures of teacher characteristics and hiring experiences, district/school hiring experiences and practices, and student achievement obtained from administrative records.

Cost/Duration: $11,682,525 over 8 years (September 2007–June 2015)

Current Status:

The first report was released in April 2012 (see A second report was released in November 2013 (see Two evaluation briefs have been released: the first, Do Low-Income Students have Equal Access to the Highest-Performing Teachers, was released in April 2011 (see; the second, A Summary of Recent IES Research on Access to Effective Teaching, was released in January 2014 (see

Key Findings

The study found that:

  • The transfer incentive successfully attracted high value-added teachers to fill targeted vacancies.
  • The transfer incentive had a positive impact on teacher-retention rates during the payout period; retention of the high-performing teachers who transferred was similar to their counterparts in the fall immediately after the last payout.
  • The transfer incentive had a positive impact on math and reading achievement at the elementary school level in each of the two years after transfer. These impacts were equivalent to raising achievement by between 4 and 10 percentile points relative to all students in their home state.
  • There were no impacts—positive or negative—on achievement in middle schools.
  • Author calculations suggest that this transfer incentive intervention in elementary schools would save approximately $13,000 per grade per school compared to the cost of class size reduction aimed at generating the same size impacts. However, overall cost effectiveness can vary depending on a number of factors such as teacher retention rates after the last installments of the incentive are paid out after the second year.

The second evaluation brief highlighted and summarized three IES studies including analyses from the first evaluation brief from this study. Findings included:

  • Disadvantaged students received less-effective teaching on average. Based on data from 29 districts in grades 4-8 and two states in grades 4 and 5, disadvantaged students received less-effective teaching in a given year than other students in those grades. The average disparity in teaching effectiveness was equivalent to about four weeks of learning for reading and two weeks for math. For context, the overall achievement gap for disadvantaged students in grades four through eight is equivalent to about 24 months in reading and 18 months in math. Study authors estimate differences in teaching effectiveness for one year represent 4 percent of the existing gap in reading and 2 to 3 percent in math.
  • Access to effective teaching varied across districts. The size of the differences in effective teaching in a given year between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students varied across the 29 districts studied. The disparities for each district ranged from no statistically significant difference to a difference equivalent to 14 weeks of learning in reading and math in grades 4 through 8.