A study conducted by the University of Washington’s Center for Education Data & Research suggests that school districts can do a better job of screening applicants for teaching positions if they would focus on certain details of an applicant’s background more and de-emphasize others. (The article can be found at http://www.king5.com/story/news/local/seattle/2014/10/29/study-teacher-hiring-should-be-more-scientific/18146421/.) Although the study only looked at a single large school district in Washington state, Spokane Public Schools, it is possible that the results could be applicable to just about any school system in the country and the ideas are certainly worth looking into.
The attributes which seemed to matter most in hiring the best teachers are hardly surprising—letters of recommendation, the ability to work well with others, experience, and instructional skills. It’s hard to imagine that any hiring system wouldn’t look at those when determining which teaching candidate to hire. But there were areas that have traditionally influenced hiring decisions that turned out to have little predictive power about which teachers would last and be successful in the classroom.
The prestige of the college teaching candidates had attended did not correlate with how well graduates did as teachers or how long they stayed in the profession. It is natural to be impressed by a well-known college when seeing Stanford or Yale on a résumé, but this study indicated favoring a “name” school doesn’t lead to better hiring choices.
How well an applicant is “connected” would be another aspect of the hiring process that doesn’t work well either. Just because the applicant knows someone or has been recommended by a friend currently in the district doesn’t lead to quality teachers. This seems relatively obvious in the abstract since the biases of acquaintances or relatives would seem likely to blind them to the real potential of the person as a teacher. Although it seems unlikely that these kinds of pressures from within would ever stop and they will probably continue to get those with connections interviews, those doing the hiring should make sure they don’t allow the candidates’ relationships to those already working in the district to sway their decisions on who should be hired.
Obviously, these kinds of cautions won’t help much in school districts which already have a difficult time filling their vacancies, but for many schools in the Chicagoland suburbs, with dozens of applicants for every opening, this article should be required reading. Given the importance of quality teachers, those doing the hiring should make sure they use the most useful criteria when filling out their teaching staffs.