Urban Districts Employing More Aggressive Hiring Tactics

By David J. Hoff — October 03, 2001 4 min read
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In the past year, the Houston Independent School District spent $100,000 on advertising in a campaign to attract new teachers by posting billboards, running TV and radio spots, and buying newspaper space.

It offered bonuses of up to $5,500 for the teachers it lured to the district.

It expanded an alternative-certification program to ease midcareer professionals into classrooms. And it hired teachers from Puerto Rico, Russia, and Spain.

When the district’s 295 schools opened in August, they were replete with well-qualified teachers for the first time in 15 years.

“We have about every position filled,” said Beatrice G. Garza, the executive general manager of human resources for the 208,000-student district.

Teacher recruiters from several other urban areas are telling similar success stories. Perennially plagued by a scarcity of teachers, they have gone to great lengths in recent years to fill vacant positions. Now, the variety of strategies is starting to pay dividends.

While their efforts have yet to satisfy fully the need for teachers—especially in such critical areas as mathematics, science, and special education—many city schools are able to say they have filled almost all their classrooms with able and qualified teachers for the first time in many years.

“A lot of [school] people have gotten the message in the past year or two that they have to be aggressive to get people,” said B.J. Bryant, the executive director of the American Association for Employment and Education, a Columbus, Ohio-based membership group of school personnel directors. “The understanding that they can’t sit back and wait for people to apply has really hit home.”

Filling Up

National experts estimate that public schools will need to hire about 200,000 teachers annually over the next decade—a number that has remained relatively constant for the past half- dozen years.

Urban schools typically feel the biggest crunch, because they often offer lower pay and more challenging work than better-off districts in the suburbs.

To compete at all with their suburban counterparts, urban districts have had to get smarter about the tactics they employ to recruit teachers.

The Chicago district, for example, has raised its teacher- recruitment budget from $500,000 to $2.1 million over the past three years. It now has 12 full-time recruiters traveling the country.

The 430,000-student district is also launching a scholarship program for its own high school graduates who promise to teach in the Chicago schools after earning teaching credentials. (“Growing Their Own,” Sept. 12, 2001.)

Districts elsewhere are trying other ways to bring teachers into the profession, a process often referred to as “growing your own.”

Denver has launched an alternative route for aspiring teachers. Seventy-two teachers started in classrooms there this fall after going through intensive training since they were hired in March. Over the next two years, they will earn their state certification, according to Mark H. Stevens, a spokesman for the 72,000- student Denver schools.

The Jefferson County, Ky., district, which serves Louisville and the surrounding area, now promises full-time substitute-teaching jobs to potential teachers. The district pays a salary of about $26,000, and benefits, while candidates pursue a teaching certificate. The district also picks up half their tuition. The teachers generally will be certified for full- time positions within five semesters, according to William S. Eckels, the district’s executive director for human resources.

Now in its second year, the program currently enrolls 140 prospective teachers.

Like Houston and Chicago, Jefferson County also has increased its efforts to hunt for fully credentialed teachers. Last year, it spent $120,000 on classified ads, up from $10,000 five years earlier. It also sent recruiters to Spain to hire bilingual educators to teach their native language in the 96,000-student district.

Wary of Shortcuts

While the success stories have temporarily solved a number of districts’ problems, according to one expert, some approaches may fall short in the long run.

Bringing teachers from overseas has become a popular strategy, but it seems to be only a quick fix.

“They don’t tend to stay,” said Mildred J. Hudson, the chief executive officer of Recruiting New Teachers, a Belmont, Mass.-based nonprofit group working to bring more and better-qualified teachers into the classroom. “We don’t know how well they do, or how well the children do under them.”

Likewise, midcareer professionals are unlikely to stay in their jobs if they aren’t given the support they need to succeed, she added. “There are no guarantees that they are going to stay in classrooms,” Ms. Hudson said. “When you shortcut the teaching and learning process, we can predict that many of these teachers will not do well.”

School administrators understand that this year’s recruits won’t solve their future headaches if they don’t stick around. Some districts are experimenting with ways to keep the teachers they have so they won’t have to be so aggressive in hiring new ones.

Houston now runs a job fair for teachers already on the payroll. While principals objected that their schools might lose some staff members, Ms. Garza said, the district insisted that it needed to give unhappy teachers a chance to find a place in the district that they would prefer.

“We’re going to quit doing quick fixes,” Ms. Garza said. “We’re doing things that build ownership and loyalty in our staff.”

Staff Writer Julie Blair contributed to this story.


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