Then there are some lessons to glean from an evaluation of the Teacher Transfer Initiative (TTI), a 10-district program offering $20,000 bonuses to high-performing teachers who transfer to low-performing schools for two years. Some of the results of the study are quite promising, but one clear lesson is that districts need to think about more than just money.

Teachers were identified based solely on their value-added scores, and only those teachers in the top 20 percent of the district were eligible for the incentive. Yet, even this large bump in pay was not enough to induce most high value-added teachers to switch schools. Out of 1,514 teachers who could have received the incentive, only 81 ultimately transferred — an early indicator that monetary incentives alone would not fix the problem of inequitable access to high-quality teachers. Other research has consistently found that teachers rate their working conditions, opportunities for collaboration, and school leadership in particular as very important considerations when choosing where they work.

On the upside, in elementary schools only, the high-performing teachers who transferred boosted reading and math achievement more than comparison teachers, on average. This finding obviates a pervasive concern about value-added data:  that teachers with high value-added scores would be less effective if they taught in more challenging schools. This finding provides some evidence that elementary teachers don’t suddenly lose their magic touch if they move to a low-performing school.

On the downside though, elementary achievement gains were isolated to classrooms with TTI teachers. Just down the hall, teammates of the TTI teachers did not increase achievement any more than the teachers on comparison teams. Ideally, the transferred teachers could have become team leaders in their new schools, collaborating with their colleagues to improve instructional practice across their grade levels. (This is the premise of another initiative, called T3, which aims to address inequitable access to top teachers by bringing teams of effective educators to low-performing schools.)

What’s more, immediately after the two-year commitment ended, the TTI teachers left their schools at the same high rates as other teachers in low-performing schools. So, unless districts have the funds to dole out large bonuses every single year, they need to think comprehensively about other factors that motivate teachers to remain in low-performing schools.