The Search for Talent: What School Districts Can Do to Attract Skilled Educators

Posted by Courtney Stevens on Jan 17, 2019 7:00:00 AM

Teacher helping student wearing VR headset


School districts nationwide are struggling with a lack of qualified educators. Focusing on fit can help.

A shortage of qualified teachers is one of the biggest challenges today’s school districts are facing. According to the Learning Policy Institute, more than 100,000 U.S. classrooms started the last school year with a teacher who was not fully qualified to teach. The shortages are especially stark in math, science, and special education, and show no signs of resolving themselves soon: between 2009 and 2014, enrollment in teacher education programs dropped by 35 percent, from 691,000 to 451,000.

Further, the teacher attrition rate is eight percent in the United States, and approximately 60 percent of new teacher hires are replacing teachers who left the field prior to retirement age. The teacher shortage is even more extreme in high-poverty, high-minority schools, where strong educators are needed most.

Additionally, identifying the correct talent for school leadership roles — including principals and assistant principals — can be equally challenging. According to National Association of Secondary School Principals, “great schools do not exist apart from great leaders.”

Facing an absence of qualified hires, many districts fall back on emergency-credentialed teachers or long-term substitutes and underprepared school leaders. But these slapdash hires are often less effective educators, and teachers who are ill-suited are also more likely to leave the profession. It’s a far more sustainable solution to recruit and retain talented educators, but when looking to fill an open role in the short-term, that’s easier said than done.

Fortunately, there are actionable steps that district and school leadership can take to attract, develop, and hold on to excellent educators — and improve student learning outcomes as a result.

Developing Strong Teachers and Leaders

An obvious way to attract more qualified applicants to a teaching role — and to attract more talented people to the education field in general — is to offer opportunities for increased pay based on specific skill sets or responsibilities. Even after adjusting for the length of the school year, teachers make 20 percent less than other college-educated professionals. That gap only widens for technology and engineering roles, which helps explain the even more intense shortage of STEM educators. While teacher salaries are often outside of the realm of a district’s control, to the extent that it’s possible, schools must make salaries more competitive to attract gifted educators.

Some schools that struggle to pay higher salaries, or that are located in an area with a dearth of experienced educators, have implemented successful Grow Your Own (GYO) programs to help fill the gaps. GYO programs take a number of forms, but they commonly provide opportunities for local instructional aids and other paraeducators to become licensed educators. Districts may enroll the potential educator in a community college teaching program at the same time that they’re put in front of a classroom. Of course, for these programs to work, districts must provide the new teacher with comprehensive, multi-level support.

Some districts have leveraged GYO programs in order to fill leadership positions in addition to teaching positions. In South Carolina, for example, a consortium of districts have partnered with the College of Education at the University of South Carolina to enroll cohorts of high-potential teachers in collaborative coursework. In just two years, successful program participants earn a Master’s degree in Educational Administration.

GYO programs serve two functions: first, they allow schools to fill open positions, and second, they increase the diversity of a district’s workforce. On average, teachers are female and Caucasian; their students typically are not. And yet, research has shown that students benefit when their teacher looks like they do: not only are their test scores and overall performance shown to increase, but seeing teacher role models of their race and gender can inspire them to consider teaching as a career path, potentially correcting the teacher shortage in the long term.

Reduce Turnover by Developing and Retaining Talent

While it’s vital to attract candidates for open teaching roles, making a bad hire is typically worse — and more costly — than making no hire at all. As such, predicting fit is one of the most important steps of a school’s hiring process. “Fit” refers to both the role and the organization; studies show that up to 25% of what is considered to be a teacher’s effectiveness may actually be due to a strong teacher-school match. Having a strong sense of your values and culture at both a district and school level can help you identify strong fits, which can help ensure the candidate’s success at the school.

That said, a strong fit isn’t just about culture — it’s also about the role. Hiring a teacher can be compared to the NFL draft: the most talented quarterback in the draft is sure to make for a dismal linebacker. Similarly, educators who are placed in a subject, with a group of students, or in a specific role that doesn’t make sense for their experience are set up to fail, no matter how talented they are. Ensuring lasting success starts with matching teachers’ knowledge, skills, and attitudes with their roles.

That “fit focus” also applies when promoting teachers into peer leadership roles or even administrative roles. The potential for professional development (PD) and career growth has been shown to improve teacher retention, but promoting an educator into the wrong role can have the opposite effect. The emergence of education-specific technology tools — specifically data analytics platforms — has transformed the way in which districts approach promoting the right teachers into the right positions.

Sophisticated solutions can enable school and district leadership to compare student performance, hone in on teacher skill sets, and better understand which educators might make a strong leader within the school. What’s more, access to the data surrounding an educator’s experience and specialties can help administrators strategically fill administrative skill gaps by promoting and hiring new leaders whose abilities complement those of existing leadership staff. For example, if a principal is very skilled in one area, a district may consider looking for complimentary skills when hiring an assistant principal.

Hoonuit’s human capital data analysis solution utilizes its own proprietary data warehouse, machine learning, and visualization and reporting technologies to transform human capital processes and better serve schools. We analyze school and district data to assist district leadership and principals in making informed decisions, so they can foster an environment for increased student achievement. With increased insight into how teacher and leader performance impacts student performance, districts can more easily identify skill gaps, target recruitment communications and outreach out to high quality talent that possesses those skills, and retain high performing educators hired for the best possible role. 


To find out more about how Hoonuit can transform your district’s approach to attracting, developing, and retaining teachers, click here.


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Topics : Human Capital