Impacts of Strategic Involuntary Teacher Transfers on Equity and Teacher Productivity

February 04, 2014

District policymakers often argue that rules in teacher contracts and collective bargaining agreements (CBAs), that limit their ability to transfer teachers to different schools unless the teacher initiates the move, handcuff them in achieving the right mix of teachers across the district. In many districts in California, for example, CBAs prevent districts from involuntarily transferring teachers except when schools lose teaching positions, and even then, seniority often governs which teachers can be moved. Could loosening those restrictions benefit students? On the one hand, maybe so. Districts could, for example, use transfers to move ineffective teachers out of disadvantaged schools or match teachers to positions where their skills could have a more positive impact. On the other hand, maybe not. If the district used transfers to shuffle ineffective teachers to other disadvantaged schools or moved them to positions where their skills are underutilized, greater involuntary transfer authority could be detrimental.

Up to this point, research has had little to say about the impacts of strategic involuntary transfers because there have been few opportunities to study them. In a study I recently conducted with Susanna Loeb and Nathaniel Nakashima, however, we were able to shed some light on the potential outcomes of a strategic teacher transfer policy using data from Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS), the nation’s fourth largest school district. Prior to the start of the 2009-10, 2010-11, and 2011-12 school years, M-DCPS exercised a clause in its CBA allowing for the transfer of teachers—identified by their principals—involuntarily within the district, provided those moves could be deemed “in the best interest of the school system.” Approximately 375 teachers were moved involuntarily over these three years. The district provided us with the involuntary transfer list in each year, which we merged with other district administrative data on schools, personnel, and students. We use this dataset to investigate how the transfer policy impacted the performance and distribution of teachers in the district.