Low-performing schools use bonuses to recruit/retain talent

Low-performing schools use bonuses to recruit/retain talent

(Tenn.) Districts in Tennessee that have implemented one of two different school turnaround models have seen significant improvements in teacher recruitment and retention efforts, a new study shows.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University and the University of Kentucky focused on two types of turnaround schools in Tennessee: state-run Achievement School Districts, and Innovation Zones (known as iZones), in which local districts receive additional funding and flexibility to manage.

Both iZone and Achievement School Districts were found to have recruited more highly effective teachers when compared with other priority and non-priority schools in the state between the 2012-13 and 2014-15 school years. And iZone schools were found to have higher retention rates.

 “The story seems to be one of general success in getting effective teachers in the door of these turnaround schools, and the iZone schools are also managing to keep and improve them,” Gary Henry, a professor of Public Policy at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of education and human development, said in a statement. “Now we need to look more closely at what’s happening inside all these schools and among the governance models to better understand what’s working, and what’s not.”

Numerous state and federal studies have demonstrated that rates of teacher attrition tend to be higher in high-poverty schools where students would likely benefit most academically from consistently being taught by experienced educators. Instead, children in tough-to-staff schools in low-income neighborhoods are more likely to be in classrooms headed up by new teachers who are more likely to leave the profession or transfer to a higher paying school before they become accomplished educators.

In Tennessee, lawmakers and turnaround schools have sought to break that paradigm. In 2012-13, the state made funding available that allowed schools in the bottom 5 percent in performance to offer a $5,000 retention bonus to teachers rated highest on the state’s educator evaluation system.

Researchers at Vanderbilt found those bonuses were especially effective in helping both iZone and Achievement School District schools recruit high performing teachers.

Low-performing schools that are part the of the Achievement School District are removed from their home districts and placed in the state-run district, which either directly manages these schools or contracts management responsibilities to external operators, such as charter management organizations, where they remain for a minimum of five years.

As of the 2014-15 school year, 23 low-performing schools were under the oversight of the Achievement School District. As part of the turnaround effort, staff in these schools had to reapply for their teaching positions or pursue employment elsewhere, and researchers at Vanderbilt found this led to more less effective teachers leaving the schools.

Several districts throughout Tennessee have adopted iZones–Memphis being the largest with 19 schools as of the 2013-14 school year. Local districts receive additional funding and flexibility to manage iZone schools, which remain in their home district, unlike those in the Achievement School District.

As a part of the Memphis iZone, teachers and other school personnel were eligible to receive signing bonuses, retention bonuses and performance bonuses, but incoming iZone teachers were required to have earned one of the top two ratings in the state’s teacher evaluation system. Researchers found that teachers who stayed in or transferred into an iZone school in Memphis received a pay increase of up to 18 percent during the first year schools operated as iZone schools.

According to the report, more than 650 teachers transferred into one of 26 iZone schools in Memphis, Nashville, or Chattanooga between the 2012-13 and 2014-15 school years–and in about 92 percent of cases, teachers were recruited from other schools in the same district as the receiving iZone school they transferred to.

Researchers did note that there was a slight decline in student performance in schools that were sending their teachers to iZone schools. In reading, students entering grades in which teachers left for iZone schools experienced a decrease in standardized test scores of about a tenth of a standard deviation on average. Those students also experienced a decrease in standardized science test scores of about 0.14 standard deviations on average.

While authors of the report said that both were statistically significant, they wrote that the decrease in student performance at sending schools appeared to be small relative to the positive effect of iZone schools.

“Our findings suggest that the iZones’ strategy for recruiting highly effective teachers to turnaround their schools has been successful in improving the achievement of students in persistently low-performing schools with a relatively small negative side effect on the sending schools, at least in the short run,” authors of the report wrote. “However, if sending schools recover from this initial dip in the longer run, this small negative consequence may be minimized, while the iZone schools posted consistent gains two and three years after the intervention began.”

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