Recruitment & Retention

School Districts’ Hiring Practices Need an Upgrade, Report Says

By Brenda Iasevoli — December 28, 2016 5 min read
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School districts nationwide need a lesson in how to woo top talent, according to a new report that reveals how the field’s approach to hiring teachers lags way behind the modern practices of other professions.

The report from the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning think tank, looked at 200 public school districts nationwide and where they go wrong. The findings are especially relevant now in light of the teacher shortages that many school districts are suffering. Here are the highlights:

School districts’ hiring is “hyperlocal, untargeted, or nonexistent.”
Most school districts do not attempt a cross-country search for top teacher candidates. Fewer than half of districts travel to colleges or universities to recruit at job fairs, according to the report. Of the districts that do travel, only 22 percent look for teachers outside their own state.

Many other career fields use new technology to do broad searches for qualified candidates. The consulting firm Deloitte, for example, uses Twitter and Facebook to reach thousands worldwide with their recruiting messages in dozens of languages. In fact, whereas 96 percent of job recruiters outside the education sector report using social media in their searches, only 30 percent of districts post job openings on social media. But, according to this EdWeek article, more school districts are starting to take their recruiting efforts online.

School districts judge candidates by their written applications rather than by their performance in the classroom.
Research is mixed on the impact of such factors as certification, education, and experience on classroom performance. While these factors should be weighed, there’s nothing like actually seeing the candidate in action to assess whether her teaching and management styles fit with the school’s culture. Yet few school districts, just 13 percent, require an in-person or video lesson before hiring.

Most successful companies, according to the report, base hiring decisions on more than certifications, education, and experience. Old Navy clothing company, for instance, uses a multistep interview process that attempts to get beyond a candidate’s GPA and past experience to look at his or her creativity, determination, and problem-solving skills. More than 1 in 3 districts, by comparison, do not even include an interview with the principal.

Some school districts, of course, are looking to update their hiring practices. Here’s an EdWeek article that shows how more districts are mining data to refine their teacher recruitment efforts.

School districts don’t provide new hires with expert mentors or workshops to help them build their skills over time.
In most careers, according to the report, professionals are afforded the opportunity to learn from experienced colleagues and gradually take on more responsibility. Yet teachers are expected to perform on day one with little to no help from more-experienced colleagues. Just 14 percent of districts provide new teachers with in-classroom assistance, and just 6 percent of districts ease new teachers into the profession with a reduced class load. Of the districts that provide new teachers with instructional coaching, only 7 percent provide that coaching once a week.

The report offers as a counter example the hospitality company Sodexo, which provides employees a mentoring program. Seventy-two percent of mentees and 79 percent of mentors reported increased job satisfaction, according to one survey. Another survey of participants found that the mentoring program saved the company money: For every dollar spent on the mentoring program, the company gained the equivalent of $2.28 in retention and increased productivity.

School districts do not offer teachers enough professional development opportunities.
More than half of districts do not provide or offer teachers coursework to improve their teaching, according to the report. One-quarter of districts do not offer teachers the opportunity to work together with other educators to hone their teaching skills. Yet young people rate the opportunity to “learn and grow” as a top priority for jobs they would consider, according to a 2016 Gallup poll.

Many companies have responded to young people’s wishes and are now offering more professional development opportunities, according to the report. The U.S. military, for instance, offers members leadership training and opportunities to advance their education. The American Heart Association started an online university so that employees can take job-related courses in advocacy, health care, and technology.

School districts don’t pay teachers on the same level as other college-educated professionals are paid.
Top undergraduates rate salary as one of the four most important factors in choosing a future career, according to a recent study cited in the report. Yet teacher pay has not kept pace with salary increases in other professions. (The mean average salary for a teacher in all districts was just under $49,000.) As a result, the report concludes, teachers with opportunities to get a better-paying job are more likely to leave.

Many companies are figuring out ways to provide better pay and benefits to attract top talent. Netflix, for example, offers higher pay than its competitors. Small companies and nonprofits that cannot afford to offer big salaries instead offer benefits like comprehensive medical insurance plans, flexible schedules, or financial planning services to attract highly qualified candidates.

But many school districts don’t have the leeway to offer more enticing packages in order to attract top teachers, according to the report. Nearly two-thirds of districts are not able to offer pay incentives like cash bonuses or salary to reward or recruit teachers.

School districts don’t do enough to recruit and retain diverse candidates.
The majority of students enrolled in public schools are students of color, yet only 18 percent of teachers identify as people of color, according to the report. And even though studies show many benefits to students of color from being taught by teachers of color (they score slightly higher on standardized tests, for instance), school districts are not doing enough to diversify their teacher force.

Some companies recruit potential employees from historically black colleges and universities to diversify their applicant pool. The American Heart Association employs a “diversity recruiting specialist” to help with this aim. Also, a diversity and inclusion manager holds cultural awareness workshops throughout the year.

The reports’ authors conclude that recruiting top talent is a crucial goal for businesses and schools alike. If school districts want to attract and keep the best teachers, according to the authors, they must take a page out of the business-recruiting playbook and revamp their hiring practices at once.

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