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Teacher Recruitment, Selection Procedures Outdated, Study Says

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Despite a predicted national teacher shortage, many school districts are still relying on the selection, hiring, and placement practices they used when job candidates were plentiful, according to a study released this week by the RAND Corporation.

And such practices, the study says, often impede the selection and discourage the retention of qualified new teachers.

The report calls teacher selection, as practiced today, "the result of ... historical accident and political compromise,'' as well as planning.

To meet the growing demand for new teachers, it argues, many districts will have to revise current procedures "to enhance the prospects for attracting, selecting, and retaining well-qualified recruits.''

But for such improvement to occur, districts will have to surmount a variety of obstacles, according to the report, including detailed state-certification requirements, lengthy and cumbersome screening procedures, poor timing, and inappropriate placement decisions.

A combination of these factors, the study found, frequently leads school officials to hire persistent local applicants, rather than better-qualified candidates from outside the immediate geographic area.

Based on case studies of six representative school districts, the 102-page report, "Effective Teacher Selection: From Recruitment to Retention,'' offers a critique of current teacher-selection practices and recommendations for improving them.

Problems of Retention

The study focused part of its examination on the way districts place, induct, and evaluate new teachers, according to the report, because such factors influence the ability to retain new teachers, once they are hired.

Approximately half of those who enter teaching now leave within the first five years, the report notes, and in some districts, as many as 40 percent drop out within the first two years. This attrition rate, it suggests, will become an increasing problem as shifts in teacher supply begin to occur.

The high dropout rate among new teachers, the report contends, may result in part from district placement practices that frequently put beginning teachers in the least attractive schools.

It recommends that districts create "induction schools,'' modeled after teaching hospitals, where "seasoned veterans can help induct novices into the profession.''

"Unless the attractiveness of teaching changes and the retention rates increase, serious shortages may result,'' the report warns.

Arthur E. Wise, director of the RAND Corporation's center for the study of the teaching profession and one of the report's principal authors, said the study was "the first look systematically across school systems at the procedures used for selecting teachers.''

The report's other chief authors are Linda Darling-Hammond, head of RAND's education and human-resources programs, and Barnett Berry, a fomer RAND researcher and currently the associate director of the University of South Carolina's education-policy center.

The study was supported by grants from the U.S. Education Department's office of educational research and improvement and several private foundations.

Practices Inhibit Recruitment

Historically, periods of increased demand for teachers have forced districts to recruit from outside their immediate vicinity, the report notes. But many states and districts now have policies--both formal and informal--that "inhibit'' such recruitment.

For example, the study found that most districts attended to the placement of practicing teachers who had requested transfers before hiring new teachers. As a result, it found, hiring was frequently delayed until late summer. By that time, the report states, many talented job candidates "may have already gone elsewhere.''

In addition, districts commonly place a cap on the salary they are willing to offer experienced job candidates--a practice that may discourage teachers with experience from applying, according to the report.

Complex requirements for state certification, and state and local policies that do not permit teachers to transfer their retirement and other benefits, pose additional obstacles to interstate mobility and, thus, to districts' ability to attract teachers from other parts of the country, according to the report.

It recommends that states wanting to recruit widely "re-examine'' their certification, retirement, and other policies that may prevent or discourage teacher mobility. In addition, it suggests that school districts eliminate "arbitrary limits'' on salary schedules.

Treatment of Candidates

A school district's treatment of job candidates may also have an impact on its ability to recruit and hire talented new teachers, according to the report.

Screening procedures, especially in large districts, "can be lengthy and impersonal,'' it asserts, and "may discourage the less persistent candidates.''

Districts that treat applicants poorly, the report notes, "may be inadvertently screening out talented candidates, including those who are courted by more responsive employers.''

"Prompt, courteous, and responsive treatment of candidates,'' the authors suggest, "may go a long way toward determining who is hired.''

The authors recommend that senior teachers, as well as principals, be involved in the screening and selection process. Their involvement, the report states, "enhances the validity of the process by providing greater insight into candidates' subject-matter competence and teaching philosophy, and conveys a view of teaching as a professional role.''

Lengthy Selection Process

The study also found that districts often end up not hiring the most qualified candidates, for reasons ranging from poor planning and management to outdated systems for processing information.

In many districts, the study found, information on vacancies is not transmitted quickly and accurately from schools to district recruiting officials. And "antiquated, manual filing systems,'' the report says, often make it difficult to match an applicant's skills with the specifications of available jobs.

As a result, many job applicants, unable to obtain information about available jobs or their progress in the selection process, become discouraged, turn elsewhere, and are no longer available when job openings are confirmed, the report concludes.

It is the candidates willing "to wait out the lengthy selection process and repeatedly contact the principal,'' according to the report, who often end up with the jobs. Such candidates, it notes, are generally from the local community or its surrounding area.

The tendency toward local hiring is frequently compounded, according to the authors, by a common desire among principals to hire "known quantities,'' such as substitute teachers, interns, volunteers, former students, and applicants recommended by a trusted colleague.

"Our case studies indicate,'' the report's authors note, "that there is often little correspondence between the group of candidates who would have been top-ranked [in the recruitment process] and those who were finally hired.''

School districts should develop planning systems that enable them to more accurately predict specific hiring needs, they suggest, and should coordinate recruitment, screening, hiring, and placement so that "bureaucratic red tape, and lapses in time'' do not result in the loss of desirable candidates.

Pressure on Beginners

The report's authors also argue that policies permitting senior teachers to transfer to schools of their choice before new teachers are hired have a major negative impact on a school system's ability to retain talented new teachers.

As a result of such policies, the report asserts, "desirable schools become rich in experienced staff, and less desirable or difficult schools become weighted with beginning teachers.''

"That makes life doubly stressful for beginning teachers who, assigned students who are difficult to teach, have few experienced teachers to turn to for advice,'' the report continues. "Consequently, they may be all the more inclined to abandon teaching.''

To counter this, the report advocates making "high-turnover schools'' into special induction schools. Such schools, it argues, should be staffed by both outstanding experienced teachers and beginning teachers.

Such a system would provide both supervision and a setting in which beginning teachers could be effectively evaluated, the authors argue. It could also be an attractive assignment for senior teachers, one that recognizes and uses their talent and experience, and would offer greater resources and a more stable teaching environment for disadvantaged children.

The six school systems included in the RAND study were selected for their diversity from among 40 districts noted for teacher-selection practices. They include the Mesa (Ariz.) Unified School District, the Montgomery County (Md.) Public Schools, the East Williston (N.Y.) School District, the Hillsborough County (Fla.) School District, the Rochester (N.Y.) City School District, and the Durham County (N.C.) Schools.

Copies of the report, numbered R--3462--NIE/CSTP, are available for $10 each from RAND's publications department, 1700 Main Street, P.O. Box 2138, Santa Monica, Calif. 90406-2138.

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