That suggests teacher bonuses paired with efforts to keep respected, committed principals in low-income schools could truly improve instruction. In recent years, our school reform debate has focused almost obsessively on the individual teacher within the classroom. In reality, a school’s working climate — the complex interplay between a principal and teams of teachers — matters just as much.
In a world of limited budgets, what does this new research tell us about how to allocate education spending? Notably, the middle school teachers who participated in the Talent Transfer Initiative did not outperform the control group. It was the elementary school students who saw the impressive gains. This is yet more evidence that the most powerful education interventions happen in early childhood.
The researchers concluded that lowering class sizes — a frequently suggested reform — could be less cost effective, in terms of raising student test scores, than transferring great teachers to struggling elementary schools. Here, however, we should be cautious. Teachers hate — and I mean hate — larger classes, so efforts to recruit good teachers to low-income schools will probably be more successful if transfer teachers are guaranteed not to be overwhelmed by higher head counts.
In short, we should listen to what teachers are telling researchers about their preferences: Class sizes should be reasonable, and principals matter. But money matters too. Showing great teachers how valuable they are, by paying them more and asking them to take on the most challenging assignments, can potentially improve results — a lot.