Workforce - Luring top teachers to tough schools boosts results

22nd November 2013 at 00:00
But a minority make the move despite $20K bait, study finds

Enticing top elementary teachers to work in some of the most challenging schools in the US by offering them an extra $20,000 (#163;12,400) can have a significant impact on results, research has shown - but only if they can be persuaded to move.

A seven-year study financially backed by the federal government tried to use cash bonuses to tempt more than 1,500 of America's best teachers to move to tougher schools, only to find that the money - payable over two years - was not enough of an incentive.

Just 5 per cent of eligible teachers took up the offer to move to underperforming schools. But the data showed that when teachers did swap schools, they substantially improved maths and reading test scores.

The Talent Transfer Initiative was funded by the US Department of Education in a bid to find new interventions to boost performance in chronically underachieving schools. Overall, just 81 teachers across 10 districts and seven states switched schools. But when teachers did move they raised test scores by between 4 and 10 percentage points per student.

The programme was conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, based at Princeton University. The organisation said that although take-up was lower than expected, teachers who did transfer stayed at their new school for longer than the two-year period covered by the bonus.

Steve Glazerman, study director and senior fellow at Mathematica, pointed out that despite the large sums involved, it was still a big ask for many teachers to move.

"It's a lot of money on the table but there was still a lot of reluctance from teachers to uproot and move schools," Mr Glazerman told TES. "You could be asking them to add an extra 45 minutes to an hour to their journey or they could have very good working relationships with their colleagues or their students.

"One thing that every teacher has said is that no amount of money would make them move to a school where they didn't see eye to eye with their school leader, so there are a number of reasons (for the low take-up)."

However, the study showed that the financial incentive was more cost-effective and efficient at improving results than other popular interventions, such as reducing class sizes.

The initiative follows a global trend among governments of using financial incentives to bring about improvements in education. Both the UK and parts of the US have instituted performance-related pay for teachers, a move that has been vehemently opposed by unions on both sides of the Atlantic.

Just last week, TES reported that disadvantaged parents in England will be rewarded with cash to attend so-called "parenting academies", where they will be taught how to help their children with reading, writing, maths and science ("Parents to be paid to 'do the right thing'", 15 November).

Jonathan Simons, head of education at right-leaning think-tank Policy Exchange, said the use of financial incentives could have major benefits. "Studies have shown that paying teachers by their performance creates a more professional culture, where professional development is taken more seriously.

"Incentives can make teachers teach better. It won't happen to everyone, but there is evidence to show that if you introduce financial incentives results do get better."

But Mary Bousted, general secretary of the UK's Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "Nobody who works as a teacher is entirely motivated by money. They do it because they want to invest in the next generation and the future health and success of our society."

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