Teaching Profession

Often, Teachers Are Hired Based on Word of Mouth. Here’s What That Means

By Madeline Will — January 25, 2018 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Here’s a simple fact that could be contributing to both shortages and diversity gaps in school districts: Teachers are often hired by word of mouth.

A recent study by the Frontline Research and Learning Institute found that 40 percent of teacher candidates applied to open positions via job boards—but only 12 percent of applicants were hired from that pool. In contrast, about 15 percent of applications came from referrals—but among that group, 30 percent were hired. (The institute is a division of Frontline Education, which is a K-12 software company.)

It makes sense, the study authors say: School leaders are hiring people who they think will be a good fit, and personal referrals make a candidate seem likeable. (Previous research shows that hiring managers are more likely to hire candidates they personally like.) But this approach might actually contribute to shortages—and, as another paper explores, it could also hinder the amount of teacher diversity in the district.

The Frontline authors looked at three years of data from over 800 school districts and charter schools, studying nearly 1.1 million job applications. They found that 68 percent of educators are hired from “known” sources—referrals and district or school websites—even though only 41 percent of applications are from those categories.

But these teachers may not be sticking around, the study found: According to the data, nearly one-third of teachers leave within their first three years to go to another school, and another 20 percent leave within the three years after that.

“We can reduce turnover by maximizing fit,” the study authors wrote. “Fit should incorporate attention to best practices in hiring, which require applicants to demonstrate competency in content knowledge and pedagogy, while also considering the school demographics and specific needs.”

In other words: “Hiring should be focused more on credentials and experience, and less on word of mouth,” they wrote.


See also: Special Report: Getting and Keeping Good Teachers


These findings are echoed in a recent working paper published in the National Bureau of Economic Research that looked at the effect of court-ordered hiring guidelines on teacher diversity. The Tangipahoa Parish school system in Lousiana is mandated by a federal court to make sure its teaching force is racially representative of the students in the school system. (The case and the new findings from the NBER study are explored in a recent Atlantic article.)

The court order was largely ignored until 2010, when the court reaffirmed the decree and added that whenever a qualified black applicant is not chosen for a teaching position, the district had to explain why. Since then, the number of black teachers who were hired increased significantly.

Still, the authors of the paper note that for this type of policy to be effective, there must be qualified black teachers in the applicant pool. The authors were not able to find data on the number or race of applicants to see if that was the case in the district—but according to a survey the authors conducted in an attempt to better understand the hiring process, about 81 percent of the teachers said that when they were applying, they had heard about job openings through word of mouth. The district’s hiring process, the teachers said, was “decentralized, accelerated, and insular.”

The paper’s authors wrote that this could pose a problem for increasing diversity: In rural Louisiana, black applicants could be less likely than white applicants to hear about job openings through word of mouth because they could have different social and professional networks. (For instance, white applicants might hear about a listing from their white peers who are already teachers or administrators in the district.) A centralized job posting system might be a way to alleviate that concern, the paper’s authors wrote.

A nationally representative Education Week Research Center survey of more than 500 K-12 teachers asked what districts should do differently to find and hire high-quality teachers. Twenty-two percent said districts should improve their job interview, screening, and selection processes. That was the third most common answer, just below improving pay and offering better working conditions. Ten percent of teachers said districts should increase their outreach and recruiting.

Follow @madeline_will and @EdWeekTeacher on Twitter.

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Opinion ‘A Culture of Care’: How Schools Can Alleviate Educator Stress This Year
It takes more than deep breathing to alleviate the stress teachers feel. Here's how to get to the root cause.
Sean Slade & Alyssa Gallagher
6 min read
shutterstock 740616958 resized
Shutterstock
Teaching Profession Reported Essay Students Aren’t the Only Ones Grieving
Faced with so many losses stemming from the pandemic, what can be done to help teachers manage their own grief?
4 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Teaching Profession We Feel Your Grief: Remembering the 1,000 Plus Educators Who've Died of COVID-19
The heartbreaking tally of lives lost to the coronavirus continues to rise and take a steep toll on school communities.
3 min read
090321 1000 Educators Lost BS
Education Week
Teaching Profession Letter to the Editor Educators Have a Responsibility to Support the Common Good
A science teacher responds to another science teacher's hesitation to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
1 min read