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Teacher retention bonuses paid off, says new Vanderbilt study

High-performing teachers who received $5,000 retention bonuses were more likely to stay in schools ranked in the bottom five percent in the state, according to recently-released research from Vanderbilt University.

An early version of these findings were released at the Education Writers Association conference in Nashville last month, before the full report was available online.

Tennessee awarded $2.1 million in bonuses, split between 361 teachers, in 2013. Those teachers were required to stay at their school for the following school year in order to keep their bonus. The bonuses were presented as a way to keep higher-performing teachers in lower-performing schools.

Fifty-six schools in Tennessee with 1,999 teachers overall were awarded bonuses in 2013.

The researchers found that teachers ranked Level 5 on their evaluations—the highest rank—who received retention bonuses were 23 percent more likely to remain teaching in priority schools than teachers who were ranked just below Level 5.

There were some irregularities in the implementation of the program, researchers report. Some top-ranked teachers who stayed in their schools did not receive bonuses, and some Level 4 teachers did receive bonuses. The researchers attributed this to the newness of the program and the speed at which it was implemented.

The research comes from the Tennessee Consortium on Research, Evaluation, and Development at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College, which is funded by Tennessee’s federal Race to the Top grant. The Consortium primarily focuses on studying the policy changes that have been implemented as part of the state’s Race to the Top grant, including the teacher evaluation system used to determine who should be awarded a bonus.