Talent Transfer Initiative Program – Pay to Play? Is it enough $…..



Houston Public Schools To Offer Top Teachers Up To $20,000 Extra For Study.









The AP (3/28) reported, “The Houston Independent School District will be a test site for a study looking at whether a good teacher can get the same results anywhere.” High performing teachers “willing to move to a struggling school” for the program could receive a $20,000 bonus. About twenty “top English and math teachers in grades 4-8…will be selected” to participate. “The school district will rank the teachers the same way it does to calculate performance bonuses and those in the top 10 percent will be eligible to apply for the Talent Transfer Initiative program.”


On the one hand, I find this article to demonstrate progressive thought on “what works” in education. On the other hand (and both feet), I see something a little less intuitive and  counterproductive.

Assuming (and I must, as I do not have the data) the teachers at underperforming schools work harder than teachers at regular or above average performing schools (much more difficult to close the gap than to just move students along), it is fair to say the teachers at underperforming schools may be (1) burnt out (2) feel threatened by the “scope” of this program.  Having worked at underperforming schools, I can state the workload is abhorrent (hence the high turnover), the administration is frustrated/frustrating, parents become – not merely a force to reckon with, but a reckoning force in how the school is ‘not’ run (down the drain with social promotions and second, third, fourth chances….).   (I can honestly say teaching at an underperforming school in America was far worse than anything I did in Peace Corps, simply because education is valued in other parts of the world.)

Going along with the positive, I am pleased to see one group put forth the time, energy, effort and money to evaluate if a good teacher alone can “raise the boat”.  After taxes, $20k is not close to enough differential compensation for a teacher to come in and turn the direction of the boat, especially if the current for the rest of the school is against you.  It is a start in the right direction.  It would take money and resources to assist any given teacher the ability to turn things around.  

Unless a number of “talent transfer” teachers are placed in the same school and the administration  of the school is FORCED to follow through and support these teachers and their hard work,  one would expect to see dejection, frustration and burn out.   Underperforming schools are, sadly, not a simple fault of teachers, as our friends at charter schools have demonstrated.  Underperforming schools have absentee parents/parenting of students,  abject poverty, weak or watered down administration both due to state and federal laws, burnt out teachers, poor working conditions, poor materials  and often lack the will of the people  themselves within the community to create change.  Students without basic literacy by kindergarden do not magically improve over time due to one or two good/great teachers. It just is not that easy to remedy the situation, although it would be nice if it worked.  There is not a teacher I know who would not apply with care the “magic bullet” if it existed. Teachers are just not a greedy lot – they have large hearts and compassion by nature or they leave the profession.

On the downside, will the teachers be “punished” after the fact if one teacher at school A succeeds but teachers B and C at other schools with other circumstances do not?  Typically, school districts have a long memory on performance and so I would ask that the union create a situation where these talent transfer teachers can not be pilloried after the fact – good, bad, indifferent of what they accomplish alone or in clusters.  Will the teachers be scrutinized against each other? This is a horrific side effect and yet it happens due to the popular will of administration at the school and district level as influenced by the public, not reason.

If the teachers ‘succeed’, will they get to keep earning the increased pay? What about the other teachers at the school? How long will the talent transfer money last…..school change takes 5-10 years to longitudinally follow, not one or two years of improved test scores?  Do the talent transfer teachers have right of recision without punitive damages if they decide to withdraw from the program?

How does one rank a teacher?  I have many teacher colleague friends and I would say 80% of them I would want teaching my own children. There are 20% I respect, value both as colleagues and personal friends but disagree with on curriculum, strategies, etc and would not want my children to have to deal with them as teachers. 

 Is being an educator now quantifiable, and if so, on what grounds?  Teaching, like medicine is as much an art as it is a science.  There are talented plastic surgeons who only do breast augmentation as that is where the money is and equally talented plastic surgeons who go to third world countries to provide cranio-facial surgery to children with severe cleft palate abnormalities…..both are class A surgeons within their practice.

Clearly, we know the positive results for teachers who can turn the boat. What are the repercussions if they can not, and have tried with all of their blood, sweat, tears, time and energy?  What if the teachers burn out from their experience – will they be allowed a year of paid sabbatical to get back on their feet and go back to their previous school/position?

What are the community expectations?  What is expected of the community?

Again, I congratulate the Houston Independent School District on being so forward thinking and wish them every success – our children are worth it!   I also wish good blessings to the teachers which undertake this Sisyphian task on behalf of improving education.

Update to this post:


The Dallas Morning News (4/2, Fischer) reports, “The Dallas Independent School District plans to raise the offer for its best teachers to $10,000 a year to serve its lowest-performing schools, but officials have also discussed assigning talented educators to those campuses if too few take the offer.” Only 65 teachers accepted the $6,000 bonus offered in 2007, and “a review of district staffing records shows that the number probably was not significantly higher” this year. Teacher representative Dale Kaiser said that educators are reluctant to relocate to struggling schools “has nothing to do with money and everything to do with campus discipline and the schools’ chaotic learning environments.” Compounding the situation is “the district’s recent willingness to reassign or terminate teachers when student test scores lag.” As such, Dallas superintendent Michael Hinojosa is also offering “those who switch…a two-year contract, which would guarantee that they could not be fired for poor student performance during that time.”


Dallas Raises Teacher Bonus For Transferring To Low-Performing Schools.

This was found on 4/22/09

Education Week (4/22, Sawchuk) reports that “the nation’s oft-criticized systems for evaluating the quality of its educator workforce are poised to receive increased scrutiny, thanks to an Obama administration plan to require school districts to disclose how many teachers perform well or poorly.” The guidelines, issued earlier this month by the Education Department in conjunction with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, require states “to report on the number and percentage of teachers and principals scoring at each level on local districts’ evaluation instruments. States must also disclose whether the evaluation tools take student performance into account.” According to some experts, “the initiative’s success will depend on the administration’s follow-up steps — including the metrics the Education Department sets for reporting evaluation data, and what steps it expects states and districts to take with the resulting data.”


Stimulus Guidelines Require Districts To Report Teacher Performance Data.

Updated 4/29/09 http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2009/04/29/30koretz_ep.h28.html?tkn=NVOFrov3C%2FZ3K6N23ailiNrQcSf4%2BT6T6jHI