Strategic Involuntary Transfers and Teacher Performance: Examining Equity and Efficiency

In this new NBER working paper, Jason Grissom and colleagues explore the implications of involuntary teacher transfers (or those in which educators are shuffled from one school to another without say) in Miami Dade County’s public schools. Specifically, analysts examined which types of schools made use of—and accepted teachers from—the transfer policy, “the characteristics of transferred teachers and their replacements, and whether the transfers affected productivity, at least in terms of teacher absences and value added. First, they examined involuntary transfers from 2009 through 2012, finding that seventy-three (of 370) of the district’s schools transferred at least one teacher in at least one of those years, totaling 375 teacher transfers. Schools that used the policy tended to be far lower achieving and tended to serve higher percentages of African American students and those with free-and-reduced-price-lunch than schools that did not. The involuntarily transferred teachers were sent to higher-achieving schools than those they left (on average, they were moved from D to B schools on Florida’s A–F grading system). With regards to teacher characteristics, the booted educators were relatively experienced, with 60 percent having five or more years of teaching under their belts and only 8 percent having one year or less. They were absent more often than other teachers—and in mathematics, they had significantly lower value-added scores than those who were not transferred. Importantly, their replacements tended to be younger, less experienced, and generally higher performing (though the sample size for this particular analysis was small). Finally, the authors found some suggestive evidence that involuntarily transferred teachers were less effective than their colleagues in both the school they departed and the one that received them, and they were also less effective than the average new hire in the receiving school. And curiously (not!), the odds of their being placed in an untested grade or subject were about twice as large for an involuntary transfer as for other teachers in the school. Many reformers say that leaders need flexibility to allocate teachers as they see fit—to make lemonade out of lemons, if you will. But why not be done with the lemons?

SOURCE: Jason A. Grissom, Susanna Loeb, and Nathaniel Nakashima, “Strategic Involuntary Teacher Transfers and Teacher Performance: Examining Equity and Efficiency,” NBER Working Paper No. 19108 (Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, June 2013).

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