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Delaware Teacher-Transfer Program Attracts Few Takers

Three years after Delaware launched an initiative to bring top talent to struggling schools, just 11 teachers have taken up the state's offer of $20,000 to transfer, reports Matthew Albright at the Delaware News-Journal.

A bid to keep high-scoring teachers already working in those schools through retention bonuses has been more successful, with about 200 such teachers agreeing to stay and earning bonuses worth between $2,500 and $10,000.

The program, established in part under the state's federal Race to the Top grant, identifies the qualified educators using the state's teacher-evaluation system; teachers must earn a "highly effective" rating overall, or an "exceeds expectations" score on the student-achievement component of the system.

The state teachers' union has expressed concerns about the program, called the Delaware Talent Cooperative, partly because of its use of test scores for identifying the teachers. The group argues that giving out bonuses could lead to a breakdown in collaboration among teachers, the newspaper reports. It would prefer a more traditional arrangement of smaller bonuses spread out more evenly among teachers.

"We're not getting many teachers signing onto this because we find that most educators don't believe in it," Frederika Jenner, the president of the Delaware Education Association, told the Delaware News-Journal. "They don't think it's fair, even if they qualify to participate in it. They don't think it's fair, and they don't think it's effective."

Meanwhile, the state education department attributes the low figures to fewer schools participating in the program than it initially envisioned. Many teachers weren't even aware of the program, surveys show.

It's also possible many were simply wary about going to schools with more challenges.

What's particularly notable about Delaware's experiment is that it so closely tracks the findings of federally financed research on teacher transfers. The U.S. Department of Education's Talent Transfer Initiative found that it was very difficult to convince teachers to agree to move to low-performing schools, even with $20,000 on the table. In that initiative, just five percent of those teachers who began the application process stuck with it. (The teachers who did ultimately transfer proved to be effective in their new placements, too, the study found.)

It is also worth considering these lessons in light of the Education Department's latest push to improve the distribution of teacher talent among high- and low-poverty schools. Every state has been told it must submit a plan to ensure this distribution. But if Delaware's experience is any indication, it is going to be very challenging work. 

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