Teachers are More Likely to Transfer from Schools with Low Results

A recent paper published by the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University in Chicago shows that teachers are more likely to leave schools with falling results than schools whose results do not change or increase. Furthermore, it is the higher quality teachers who are more likely to transfer to another school as a result of falling school results.

The results point to a major challenge facing struggling schools: low average results lead to high teacher turnover; good teachers leaving leads to worse results and a spiral of decline that often leads to school closure.

The study was based on data from Florida’s public school system. It used a change in the state’s school accountability system that gave some schools higher accountability grades and others lower grades to analyse whether teachers in the “shocked” schools are more or less likely to move.

Beginning in 1999, Florida assigned letter grades to its public schools on the basis of measured school performance. In 2002, the school grading system was significantly changed to include results from more Year levels and individual student progress from year-to-year. This change generated an information “shock” that caused some schools to have better grades than they would have had under the previous system and other schools to have worse grades than would have otherwise occurred. About 50 per cent of elementary schools received a higher or lower grade under the new system.

The study found that teachers in schools whose grades fell were 11 per cent more likely to leave their school than teachers in schools whose grades did not change. There was little difference in teacher retention between schools whose grades did not change and those that increased.

The effect was largely confined to schools whose grade fell to “F” – the lowest on the state’s grading system. Teachers in these schools were over 40 per cent more likely to leave their school and nearly 70 per cent more likely to move to another school in the same district than teachers in schools that did not receive an accountability shock. Teachers in schools whose school grade fell to a “B”, “C” or “D” were no more likely to leave their school than are teachers in schools that did not experience a change in grade due to the new accountability system.

There was some evidence that schools which received an increased grade were better able to retain their teachers than no-shock schools. However, the measured effects were smaller and less precise than for downward-shock schools.

The study also attempted to assess whether there were any differences in the quality of teachers who shifted schools. It found that higher quality teachers were more likely to leave as a result of schools receiving a lower grade. However, the study measured teacher quality solely in terms of teachers’ contributions to their students’ test scores, a measure which is subject to a great deal of uncertainty.

Feng, Li; Figlio, David and Sass, Tim 2010. School Accountability and Teacher Mobility. Working Paper WP-10-06, Institute of Policy Research, Northwestern University, Chicago, June.

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