Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2011

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Kevin G. Welner

Second Advisor

Edward W. Wiley

Third Advisor

Derek C. Briggs

Fourth Advisor

Margaret A. Eisenhart

Fifth Advisor

Claudia Mills


Extensive teacher mobility can undermine policy efforts to develop a high-quality workforce. As one response, policymakers have increasingly championed financial incentives as a way to retain teachers. In January, 2006, Denver Public School District, the Denver Classroom Teachers' Association, and Denver voters approved and funded one of the most prominent alternative teacher compensation reforms in the United States: the Professional Compensation System for Teachers ("ProComp"). This dissertation studies ProComp and endeavors to contribute to research on the potential of financial incentives to increase teacher retention. The study draws on panel data and teacher interview data to investigate three inter-related questions: the extent to which ProComp has increased retention rates, the relationship between retention and teacher quality, and the reasons underlying these effects. Beyond the effects observed for schools in the district as a whole, special attention is paid to the effects of ProComp on retention rates at schools that serve high concentrations of poor students--schools where teachers are eligible to receive a financial incentive to stay.

Findings suggest teachers do respond to financial incentives, albeit at a seemingly low level. Furthermore, analyses point to a greater impact on retention rates for schools with high ProComp participation and for the high-poverty schools where teachers are eligible for the retention incentive. These gains also appear to be associated with above-average teacher quality, although the direction of this relationship is unknown. Analyses of teacher interview data do not rule out the possibility that some teachers may respond to financial incentives, but these interviews do suggest their responses may be tempered by the importance of non-pecuniary factors.

This dissertation is intended to contribute to the slim body of literature about financial incentives as a policy lever to increase teacher retention. While improved retention is not a silver bullet for providing all children with access to high-quality teachers and a better education, it is an important step. Programs such as ProComp and research about its effects contribute valuable insight about the potential of financial incentives to improve retention, particularly at high-poverty schools.


Sixth advisor: Paul Teske.