Higher pay not enough to get teachers for troubled schools

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To attract and retain teachers in hard-to-staff schools, districts need to do a better job of matching teachers to schools and providing adequate support and training, as well as financial incentives, according to teachers from Illinois and two other states.

These are some of the suggestions teachers made in a survey by Learning Point Associates, a nonprofit education research organization that asked teachers what it would take to hire and keep high-quality teachers in the neediest schools. Until now, none of the research on teacher recruitment and retention included the views of classroom teachers, says the organization.

From focus groups and a survey of 130 teachers in Ohio, Wisconsin and Illinois, researchers found that teachers favored:

  • Online recruiting. Teachers say online questionnaires would serve as a screening tool, allowing teachers and schools to find the best fit by addressing basic issues such as pedagogy, educational philosophy and classroom environment. If used before face-to-face interviews, online questionnaires could help cut turnover by giving teachers a safe way to honestly discuss their expectations and by letting them share information that is not usually asked during the recruiting process.
    A district-wide online recruiting tool could shorten the hiring process by eliminating the need for teachers to submit multiple applications to different departments. A study conducted by the New Teacher Project, a New York-based nonprofit group, found that hard-to-staff schools receive five to seven applications for each available teaching position, but don’t make timely job offers and lose qualified teachers to districts that recruit earlier.
  • Better support, more authority. Teachers say they are attracted to schools that have strong, supportive principals and an environment that allows them to make important strategic decisions about their schools.
  • Mentoring, training. Teachers said extensive mentoring and training tailored to their individual needs would help them do their job, and are critical to their success and satisfaction in the classroom.
  • Financial incentives. Overall, teachers say that they are poorly paid and favor salary increases as well as bonuses. They also suggest other financial incentives, including free tuition for graduate school, student loan forgiveness, increased pension contributions with immediate vesting and reduced tuition for their children at state colleges and universities. Only a few teachers who participated in the focus groups supported the controversial idea of pay-for-performance.

With the exception of performance pay, a Chicago Teachers Union representative says the survey’s results reflect what CPS teachers say they want.

Researchers “got this from the horse’s mouth,” says Connie Fitch-Blanks, who oversees special projects and training in the union’s Quest Center. “However, I am surprised that teachers didn’t mention strong parent involvement. We hear this from our teachers all the time. That is the only element that appears to be missing.”

“Most of these are great ideas,” says Amanda Rivera, CPS director of the CPS Teachers Academy, which provides training and support to teachers. “Do teachers want extensive mentoring? Yes. Training, mentoring and professional development? Yes. Shared leadership and strong leadership? Yes. We are working on all of these now.”

To contact Debra Williams, call (312) 673-3873 or e-mail williams@catalyst-chicago.org