Education Reform and Accountability in Florida

It's the watchword of the Obama administration's multibillion-dollar push for education reform. But "accountability," the practice of tracking school performance, isn't always a force for good. It has been linked to a host of unsavory behaviors, including cheating on official exams and suspending poor students on test day. Now, according to a new study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, there's an additional concern: teachers quitting.

In 2002, Florida became one of the first states to grade schools on student progress. But the result, the study shows, was a case of "accountability shock": in the 60 schools deemed failing, about 30 percent of the workforce left—usually for jobs at higher-rated schools nearby. (The average school nationwide might see annual turnover of about 15 percent.) Since the best teachers were among the most likely to transfer, says Northwestern University professor and study coauthor David Figlio, accountability pressure may actually reinforce the gap between educational haves and have-nots; teachers, like athletes, want to play for a winning team. The solution, Figlio suggests, might be retainer deals for the best instructors at bad schools, something to compensate them for the rebuilding ahead.