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Why a bad teacher hire could cost you millions

How much thought does your district put into a multi-million dollar technology investment? Or program evaluation? It’s not uncommon for such projects to endure months of vetting and public debate before they get off the ground.

And for good reason: Parents and taxpayers have a right to know that their money is being well spent.

Now apply that same logic to your hiring process. Do you give new teachers the same considerations? What are those evaluations like?

New research from the Center for Education Data and Research at the University of Washington Bothell suggests that school districts invest nearly $2 million per tenured teacher over the course of their career.

That research, conducted under the leadership of Center Director Dan Goldhaber, was the subject of a recent panel discussion at SXSWedu in Texas. The findings are part of a four-year evaluation of teacher hiring practices at Washington’s Spokane Public Schools.

A reporter from education news site, The 74, covered the event, moderated by Scholastic Administrator Editor-in-Chief Wayne D’Orio.

Here’s a clip from that report (read the full article here):

“It just seemed so logical to have this opportunity to understand. (Personnel) is 83 percent of our operating budget, 62 percent is teacher salary and benefits,” co-presenter Tennille Jeffries-Simmons, the district’s human resources chief, said. “We have to understand what is happening and why and get after it. Otherwise, it’s not going to make a difference in the classrooms that 30,000 of our students spend their days in.”

Better hiring decisions
Though Goldhaber’s findings are specific to Spokane, they’re instructive for all districts looking to improve their hiring practices. Below are a few highlights from his research and some questions to consider:

  • More than a third of candidates offered jobs were student teachers in the district.
    Are you relying too heavily on internal hires? Should you be more discerning when selecting student teachers?
  • A high GPA doesn’t necessarily translate into effectiveness in the classroom. What other factors do you assess candidates on besides grades? How can you predict classroom-teaching performance?
  • The best teachers don’t necessarily come from the best colleges and don’t need to have advanced degrees. 
    Have you overlooked candidates because of where they went to school? How can you broaden your talent pool by considering “less-credentialed” candidates?
  • Confidential letters of recommendation can tell you a lot about a candidate.
    Do you take recommendations seriously? How do you ensure those recommendations are accurate and truthful?

Check, double-check
Goldhaber’s research reveals the high cost that schools often pay for poor or under-researched staffing decisions. Say nothing for the academic costs passed on to students assigned to ineffective teachers.

Here’s a thought:

Think of every new teacher hire as a multi-million dollar capital investment—like a baseball field, a refurbished school building. Check and double-check candidate references and credentials to ensure they are the right fit before bringing them on board.

As you rethink your hiring practices, have you given any thought to the professional qualities that students and parents want in a classroom teacher?  Does your community understand your hiring process and the steps you take?  Consider asking for their feedback. Or conduct a survey on new teacher effectiveness.

Want to know what your community is looking for in a classroom teacher? Start a conversation today.