School & District Management

Hire Better Teachers by Stressing Auditions, Academic Background: Study

By Stephen Sawchuk — March 14, 2016 3 min read
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School districts could hire teachers more likely to be successful in the classroom by paying attention to their academic credentials and also asking to see them teach a mock lesson,according to new research.

Here’s the catch: That information is only helpful if it’s actually acted on.

In the Washington, D.C. school district, applicants’ prior achievement and their demonstration teaching were good predictors of how effective they’d be on the district’s teacher-evaluation system, according to the study. But they didn’t predict whether or not an applicant actually got hired.

The study was released last week as a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research. It was written by five scholars, all hailing from different institutions: Brian Jacob, Jonah Rockoff, Eric Taylor, Benjamin Lindy, and Rachel Rosen.

The D.C. district created a special hiring process, called Teach DC, in 2011. It had several stages, including some specialized tests, essays, and a teaching audition. This was a significant departure from the traditional hiring method. (Most of the time, districts base hiring decisions on a review of credentials and interviews, but not on work portfolios or sample teaching.) Those who passed all the stages of the process were “recommended,” and their applications made available to principals to bring in for interviews. AsI reported at the time, principals could log onto the system and see the teachers’ materials and demonstration lesson, and decide whether to bring those teachers in for interviews. But they weren’t required to hire only from the approved list.

The study looks at hiring in Washington between 2011 and 2013; about a quarter of all hires came through this particular hiring process. But getting on the “recommended” list definitely boosted a candidate’s chances of being hired: nearly half of candidates on the list were ultimately hired.

In all, the sample comprised about 7,000 candidates who applied through Teach DC, and the study tracked their subsequent performance through the 2013-14 school year.


Applicants’ GPAs, SAT/ACT scores, and college selectivity all predicted classroom performance to some degree. So did the demonstration teaching lesson and a pedagogical content knowledge test score. But none of the measures studied bore much of a relationship to who ultimately got hired, indicating that while principals did hire from the “recommended” list, they didn’t always look below the surface at some of these sub-components.

Here’s another way to visualize what the research found in D.C. Take a look at the chart below. The bottom axis shows performance, in standard deviations, on the district’s teacher-evaluation system. As you can see, there are still a number of teachers who likely would have been high performing, but weren’t hired.

Does this mean that D.C. would have been better off requiring principals to hires from the recommended list? Possibly, but that’s difficult to say with the available data, the researchers said.

“It’s hard to make sort of sweeping prescriptions about things like tying principals’ hands more without knowing more about why it appears that they didn’t use the information as much as they might ideally,” said Eric Taylor, an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and one of the study’s authors.

A spokeswoman for the DC system pointed to a number of changes that the district made after 2013, after this study concluded. Among other things, it’s now placing more weight on applicant information that better predicts performance, provides principals with more robust summary information on candidates, and improved the platform for principals to view the audition videos.

New Attention to Teacher Hiring

The research comes just as the details teacher hiring seems to be attracting more research and policy interest. Last year, a study of the Spokane, Wash. district found that its detailed application also helped to identify more effective candidates.

And in this week’s edition of Education Week, I write about the Boston district’s efforts to hire teachers earlier, getting in stronger talent that was often lost to other districts or even other jobs.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.