Study Finds Forced Teachers Transfers Improved Miami-Dade Schools

Research reveals that dozens of struggling Miami-Dade schools benefited in recent years from the forced transfers of hundreds of teachers. According to the study, principals in 73 schools identified and transferred 375 low-performing teachers in the best interest of the school district from 2009 to 2012. As a result, test scores improved notably under new teachers who stepped in to replace those who were transferred, writes David Smiley of Miami Herald.

The research, published this month in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, was conducted by professors from Vanderbilt and Stanford universities. For years, professors have been examining Miami-Dade County Public Schools data to determine the effects of staffing changes.

"Despite claims that school districts need flexibility in teacher assignment to allocate teachers more equitably across schools and improve district performance, the power to involuntarily transfer teachers across schools remains hotly contested," wrote Jason Grissom, an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University's Peabody College of Education and Human Development and the lead author of the study.

"Little research has examined involuntary teacher transfer policies or their effects on schools, teachers or students."

In Florida, more than a third of school districts impose the transfers. Critics have said that forced teacher transfers simply dump poor, unmotivated educators on new schools. Grissom, however, states that a review of teacher, student and school data around Miami-Dade shows the district's transfer policies improved schools from which teachers were removed.

As a first step, school principals and district officials identified teachers with under-performing students. Then principals moved those teachers to higher-performing schools with open positions using a collective-bargaining clause that allows for transfers "when deemed in the best interest of the school system."

Data suggest that these teachers were unlikely to leave their schools unless forced, according to Grissom. They often were removed from "D" schools with high poverty rates and ended up in "B" schools with a low percentage of impoverished students. They were given no say in the transfer, nor was the school in which they were placed.

Transferred teachers were moved from middle and high schools into elementary schools. They learned they would be transferred shortly before the opening of the new school year. They were given jobs teaching subjects that were not tested by the state and did not factor into school grades. Transferred teachers missed fewer days in their new schools, showing a sign that they were more productive after being moved.

But not all of the results were positive. For the teachers who did end up in a tested subject, scores suggested their new students performed poorly in comparison to their peers. Grissom and his colleagues, however, noted there were too many variables to conclude the district was simply passing one school's problem onto the next. "There is little evidence that the policy resulted in a ‘dance of the lemons,' " they wrote.

According to the study, younger and less experienced teachers replaced the transferred teachers and they improved students' scores, including notable jumps in reading.

Grissom said that other districts can learn lesson from Miami-Dade's transfers practice. He said the study has its limitations, such as the short three-year time period. But the results show that transfers can be used successfully to improve equity in teaching in urban schools.

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