Effects of Incentives for High-performing Teachers to Transfer to Low-achieving Schools

National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Home Page, a part of the U.S. Department of EducationOne policy response to the challenge of attracting high-performing teachers to low-achieving schools is offering teachers monetary incentives to transfer. This report examines impacts of transfer incentives — including the willingness of teachers to transfer when offered an incentive, teacher retention in the schools to which they transferred, and the impact of transfer incentives on student achievement at low-performing schools.

Ten school districts in seven states participated in the random assignment study, called the Talent Transfer Initiative (TTI). The highest-performing teachers in each district – those who had raised student achievement year after year as measured by “value added” — were offered $20,000 to teach at a lower-performing district school for two years.

The study found that:

The transfer incentive successfully attracted high-performing teachers to lower-performing schools and retained them in these schools during the two years.

Transfer incentives had a positive impact on math and reading achievement at the elementary school level. These impacts were equivalent to raising achievement by between 4 and 10 percentile points relative to all students in their home state.

There was no impact on student achievement at the middle school level in either math or reading.

To read more about the study research design and its results, visit


Melissa Tooley, writing for New America Foundation, argues that money is not enough to keep high quality teachers in high need schools. She points to the positive impact high-quality teachers had — but the limits of using purely financial tools to get them in the right classrooms.

On the positive side:

  • The prospect of a $20,000 transfer incentive encouraged 81 high-performing teachers to transfer to selected low-performing schools in their district, filling 88% of total vacancies.
  • After the first year, TTI teachers were retained in their transfer schools at significantly higher rates than their control group counterparts who were not receiving financial incentives: 93% vs. 70%.
  • TTI teachers who transferred to elementary schools were successful in raising the achievement of students in the new setting. At the end of the two year initiative, their students’ achievement had increased roughly 15 percentile points, on average, on state assessments in both math and reading (assuming starting achievement at the 40th percentile in their state).
  • The year TTI incentive payments ended, a majority of TTI and control teachers were still teaching in the same school: 60% and 51%, respectively.

However, the TTI also finds that such financial incentives are not a clear slam dunk because:

  • Even with intensive, targeted recruitment efforts, only 22% of teachers offered the incentive applied for it, and 12% of open positions on the treatment teams went unfilled by a TTI teacher.
  • TTI teachers who transferred to middle schools had no impact on their students’ achievement.
  • The vast majority of teachers working in TTI teacher teams were non-TTI teachers, and their students’ achievement did not rise. \
  • Forty percent of TTI teachers left their schools once the incentive payments ended, and we have no data on whether they would have remained had the incentives continued.

Read more on attracting and retaining the best teachers in high-need schools here: