Q&A with Timothy Daly

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Timothy Daly

Timothy Daly

Chicago’s teacher hiring and transfer policies, which allow principals to fill their own vacancies and teachers to choose where they want to work, are the envy of other urban districts, says Timothy Daly, president of The New Teacher Project. But CPS needs a big-picture strategy to hire and keep the cream of the teaching crop, Daly says. The New Teacher Project, which recruits urban teachers, recently completed a study of the district’s personnel practices. Daly spoke with Deputy Editor Lorraine Forte and Data and Research Editor John Myers about the report and his recommendations.

You say CPS loses top applicants because of late hiring. We’ve heard that’s due to budget uncertainty.

Partly. But no one is pushing principals to hire early, and the district’s first career fair isn’t till April or May. We told CPS, “You’re just letting the suburbs cherry-pick from the pool.”

Did you give them any suggestions?

One incentive might be for central office to subsidize $2,000 or $3,000 of a teacher’s salary if a principal hires them before the end of April. But this shouldn’t be done off-the-cuff. It needs to be strategic.

Did you talk about that with CPS?

We had a very productive conversation. We told CPS, “Treat your applicants better. Communicate more and let them know how the application process is going. Follow up with people who don’t get hired, find out where they go and why the district lost them—did they have a bad experience with CPS? If someone calls or e-mails the [personnel] office, have a 24-hour response time and give them a clear answer to their question.” Those are the kinds of standards we didn’t see. CPS should aim to become the best human capital system in the country.

Explain that a bit more.

We want to see a plan covering the entire continuum of a teacher’s career—how teachers are brought into the system, the customer service they receive once they’re hired, how they move up the career ladder. What would CPS say if a parent or a community group asks, “How can you promise me that my school is going to be staffed with good teachers?” Good teachers won’t stay if you don’t treat them well.

How would you create the plan?

Someone who reports directly to Arne Duncan should take charge, cutting across departments. Bring in the teachers union and community groups, and let them know what you’re doing. That’s what we’d like to see.

Let’s talk about evaluation. Everyone knows the current process doesn’t work. What can be done about it?

When schools lose positions due to budget cuts, reassign people based on seniority but also performance. Don’t reassign unsatisfactory teachers; they need to stay where they are until they improve or are let go. But let’s say you have three teachers subject to cuts who are only rated ‘satisfactory.’ Cut the least-senior teacher in that group. No one rated ‘superior’ would be vulnerable, no matter what their seniority, before teachers in the lower categories. That gives teachers an incentive to keep their high rating, and principals now have an incentive to use the process. This should be done immediately and the union should agree to it.

What would you do with unsatisfactory teachers?

A couple of things. First, you would not get step increases. If you get two ‘unsatisfactory’ ratings within a certain period of time, say five to seven years, that should start the dismissal process.

What other strategies would ensure getting the best teachers?

Chicago has a four-year probationary period for new teachers and a very liberal non-renewal process. But are they using these policies effectively? In the year that a teacher is up for tenure, does anyone sit down with them and say, “Bring me your case. Tell me why you should get tenure?” Chicago needs a plan for this.