Gansu Survey of Children and Families Dissertations

Document Type

Working Paper

Date of this Version



Suggested Citation:

Wei, Yi. 2016. Teacher Mobility in Rural China: Evidence from Northwest China (Doctoral dissertation). Michigan State University.


This study investigates an understudied but crucial dimension of education in China: teacher mobility. The primary goal is to provide a basic understanding of teacher mobility in rural China. The issue has been extensively studied in many developed countries, especially in the United States. However, there is little research in China, partly because of the lack of individual-level longitudinal data on teachers. Using a dataset from a longitudinal survey in Gansu province in rural Northwest China, this study is able to fill some of the gaps in the understanding of how teacher move among schools in rural China.

Three questions are examined in this study. First, are similarly qualified teachers distributed equally across schools? Second, how do school characteristics relate to teacher mobility? Third, how do individual teacher characteristics relate to teacher mobility?

First, I examine the distribution of teacher attributes across schools to find whether there is systematic sorting in terms of teacher quality in rural Gansu. The findings show that there are substantial differences among schools with regard to teacher quality. Because the teacher quality measures at the school level are highly correlated, schools that have less-qualified teachers as measured by one attribute are also likely to have less-qualified teachers based on other measures. As a result, there are large gaps among schools in the chances of students’ access to more qualified teachers.

Second, I examine the relationship between teacher mobility measured at school level and school characteristics including wages, working conditions, and compositions of students and teachers. The findings show that higher wages are likely to reduce the proportion of teachers leaving a school, but only when district fixed effects are not added. The findings also show that the school location and teacher composition matter. Being a central school is related to lower proportion of teachers leaving the school and lower proportion of teachers coming to the school as well. Higher percentage of teachers with less experience in a school is associated with higher proportion of teachers coming to the school. This pattern is related to the way of assigning novice teachers to rural schools and schools in remote areas.

In the teacher-level analysis, first I examine the effects of initial placement on teacher mobility. The results reveal the “draw of home”; teachers whose initial placements are not in their home district are more likely to switch schools and they are more likely to do so for their families rather than career development or involuntary transfer by governments. Next, I examine whether teachers with higher professional ranks and better evaluation scores are more likely to switch schools. The findings show that teachers with middle- or senior-level professional ranks are more likely to switch school in the long run. The findings also show that failing the end-of-year evaluation increases the probability of moving to another school the following year, while teachers in the middle tend to stay at their current schools.

There are several implications of this study. The findings suggest that localized recruitment and deployment of teachers have value in retaining teachers. If the government plans to use teacher rotation as a main strategy to improve the equal distribution of teachers, the policy should be carried out with consideration of the effects of draw of home. In addition, the successful implementation of the teacher transfer and rotation policies is closely related to prior institutional arrangement including the use of teacher transfer as reward and punishment, and other educational policies regarding the equal distribution of school resources and additional compensation for teachers working in hard-to-staff schools.


education finance, Asian studies, education policy, school administration



Date Posted: 04 June 2021