Panel Paper: Is Performance Guaranteed? Investigating the Portability of Teacher Effectiveness in Turnaround Schools

Friday, November 8, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Governor's Square 14 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Lam Pham, Vanderbilt University

School turnaround initiatives promising to quickly and dramatically improve low-performing schools often invest in the recruitment of effective teachers (Rice & Malen, 2010) by leveraging policy tools like pay incentives (Springer, Swain, & Rodriguez, 2015) and involuntary transfer policies (Grissom, Loeb, & Nakashima, 2014). These reform strategies align with the general research consensus that teachers are the most important school-based contributor to student achievement. However, staff recruitment policies operate under the understudied assumption that high performing teachers will remain effective after they transfer. The assumption that teacher effectiveness is portable across schools may not hold given evidence that some turnaround schools fail to improve student achievement even after successfully recruiting effective teachers (Zimmer, Henry, & Kho, 2017). Moreover, existing literature on teacher performance provides evidence consistent with the theory that school context can play a role in teacher motivation, sense of self-efficacy, and satisfaction (Kraft, Marinell, & Shen-Wei Yee, 2016).

This study contributes to both research on teacher effectiveness and school reform policy by explicitly examining teacher transfers into turnarounds schools, because extant research on this topic has never differentiated turnaround schools from other low-performing schools (Xu, Ozek, & Corritore, 2012). Turnaround schools are especially policy-relevant because investments into these schools are often made with the explicit intention of making them more competitive when attracting teachers. Additionally, there is reason to believe teacher performance may differ between turnaround schools and other low-performing schools. For example, effective teachers may find it easier to maintain effective instructional practices after moving into a turnaround school, because the school culture is highly innovative and unified around the goal of improvement. Alternatively, teachers may have more trouble maintaining quality instruction in turnaround schools because of the pressure to quickly raise student test scores. These features (high innovation and high pressure) make turnaround schools different from other low-performing schools and motivates a need to explicitly study teacher transfers into turnaround contexts.

Using administrative data from public schools in Tennessee, I use a series of fixed effect models to estimate whether changes to teacher effectiveness (as measured by value-added scores) differ between teachers transferring to turnaround schools and teachers transferring to other low-performing schools. Since 2012-13, Tennessee’s two most prominent turnaround efforts – the Achievement School District (ASD) and local Innovation Zones (iZones) – have taken over multiple cohorts of schools with varying levels of success. Since both turnaround models require schools to bring in new staff, examining whether high performing teachers remain effective after moving into these turnaround schools will provide valuable information to illuminate why some schools produced gains while others did not. These data in Tennessee also allow me to identify characteristics associated with high performing teachers who remain effective after they transfer. Preliminary results suggest that both ASD and iZone schools were able to attract high performing teachers in the first year of reforms but not all teachers remained as effective after transferring. Moreover, high performing teachers were more likely stay in iZone schools than in ASD schools.