MENU
component-ddb-728x90-v1-01-desktop

Study: Teacher hiring should be more scientific

SEATTLE (AP) - School districts may be able to hire teachers who do a better job in the classroom if they change the way they screen job applicants, a new study has found.

Recruiters should carefully read recommendation letters, give more weight to a teacher's ability to keep calm in class and don't let personal connections overrule scientific evidence, the University of Washington's Center for Education Data & Research concluded.

The study had access to lots of private information, including letters of recommendation and scoring rubrics used to assess candidates before the interview process. While it focused on one large school district in Washington state, Spokane Public Schools, the results may have implications for many of the nation's 14,000 school districts.

The researchers follow Spokane's new teachers, as well as those who did not get hired, for several years. The ones hired in Spokane did better in teaching English and math - as measured by improvement in student test scores - than those who were rejected and went on to teach in other schools.

The Spokane teachers who scored highest on two screening rubrics also stayed in the classroom longer.

The ability to work well with others - flexibility and interpersonal skills - seemed to be a bigger factor in teacher retention than where the teacher went to college. Other things like experience and instructional skills also were big factors.

The National Commission on Teaching and America's Future estimates one-third of all new teachers leave after three years, and 46 percent leave within five years.

Dan Goldhaber, director of the research center at the University of Washington, said he and the district were pleased that he found some good news that would be useful to others.

"Teacher hiring across the country looks pretty ad hoc," said Goldhaber, who also directs the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Educational Research in Washington, D.C.

A study last year by Peter Hinrichs at Georgetown University found school districts favor candidates from more selective colleges and those who have an in-state connection, but neither quality seems to make an appreciable difference in student achievement.

Both Hinrichs and Goldhaber said they chose their study topics because too little is known about what types of teachers schools like to hire and whether those hiring decisions make a difference in the classroom.

Although most education researchers agree the most important factor in student achievement is having a good teacher in the classroom, most studies on the topic have focused on how to help teachers improve their craft once they get the job.

Goldhaber thinks school districts should be more proactive.

"Our research suggests that teacher workforce improvements can be derived from more careful hiring decisions," he said.

The results were better in Spokane, in part, because hiring managers there were trained to read between the lines in letters of recommendation.

For example, if a letter from someone who managed a teacher candidate as an intern or classroom teacher, doesn't say anything about the candidate's skills as a classroom manager, then the school district screener is going to assume this is not an area of strength for the teacher.

A human resources manager for Spokane Public Schools said they were pleased to get confirmation that their hiring practices are getting good results.

"I think that's what every school district is eager to see," said Mary Templeton, director of certificated personnel.

The results need further study, Templeton said, but she thinks they could help Spokane and other districts improve the way they hire.

When hiring teachers, the Spokane district looks at their effectiveness in teaching English and math, but they also want other qualities that aren't so easy to study, such as whether a teacher would be good at teaching students to be good citizens, Goldhaber said.

The director of teacher quality for the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union, agreed that well-designed teacher screening can help improve the quality of the teacher workforce, but believes that isn't enough.

The system also needs high quality teacher education, professional licensing standards and quality training once teachers are in the classroom, said Segun Eubanks.
close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off

Trending