Policy brief

Do Financial Incentives Draw Promising Teachers to Low-Performing Schools?

Assessing the Impact of the California Governor’s Teaching Fellowship
Jennifer L. Steele
American University
Richard J. Murnane
Harvard University Graduate School of Education
John B. Willett
Harvard University


In a new PACE policy brief, Jennifer Steele, Richard J. Murnane and John B. Willett assess the impact of California’s Governor’s Teaching Fellowship. During a two-year period from 2000-2002, California awarded a $20,000 Governor’s Teaching Fellowship (GTF) to 1,169 people enrolled in traditional, post-baccalaureate teacher licensure programs who agreed to teach in low-performing public schools for four years after earning their licenses. Schools designated as low-performing were those that ranked in the bottom half of the state’s Academic Performance Index (API). GTF regulations specified that recipients who did not fulfill their four-year teaching commitments would repay $5,000 for each year of service not completed. The GTF was a policy response to longstanding evidence from within and outside California that low income students and students of color are disproportionately taught by teachers with weak academic backgrounds and limited preparation. The GTF’s objective was to promote a more even distribution of teacher qualifications by helping low-performing schools recruit, and keep, promising new teachers with strong academic backgrounds. Assessing the GTF’s impact is important for both state and national reasons. From a state perspective, understanding whether the GTF achieved its objectives can inform policy decisions to ensure that California students with the greatest instructional needs have access to skilled teachers. From a national perspective, estimates of the GTF’s impact can contribute to a limited body of evidence about the effectiveness of this type of incentive. We see two related lessons from our evaluation. The first is that financial incentives can be an important policy tool in attracting skilled professionals to work with underserved populations. The second is the importance of exploring whether an alternative policy design might have been equally or more cost-effective.

Suggested citationSteele, J. L., Murnane, R. J., & Willett, J. B. (2010, May). Do financial incentives draw promising teachers to low-performing schools? Assessing the impact of the California governor’s teaching fellowship [Policy brief]. Policy Analysis for California Education. https://edpolicyinca.org/publications/do-financial-incentives-draw-promising-teachers-low-performing-schools-assessing