Chicago and Baltimore: Retrained to retain

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Chicago will soon be spending $150,000 to educate its principals on one of the most basic aspects of their job: recognizing and hiring competent teachers. With the help of the ever-resourceful folks at The New Teacher Project, Chicago will help principals to more effectively recruit, interview, and evaluate potential hires, by outlining the questions that should always be asked, giving them ways to efficiently evaluate resumes, and helping them spot identify fraud. Principals are taught how to pick teachers that best fit their schools, how to create scenario questions that probe instruction and classroom management techniques and are encouraged to require candidates to teach a sample lesson as part of their interview.

Since implementing this same program this year, Baltimore has reported fewer early teaching vacancies in its lowest performing schools. Emma Cartwright, project manager in Baltimore, points out that the training gives principals ways to stay in contact with newly hired teachers over the summer, estimating that between 5 to 7 percent of these teachers "may...leave before school starts." Cartwright also cites a new level of openness in dealing with candidates at job fairs. She explains, "One question my schools frequently ask is 'What happens if a student curses at you?'" Such questions are part of a larger effort to help sort out fragile idealists from the more viable candidates.

Principal Anthony Harold in Baltimore received training from the New Teacher Project and has since hired more than twenty teachers using its strategies. According to Harold, the quality of these newly hired teachers has deeply impacted his school, citing a range of improvements from increased algebra scores to decreased in-school firings. Harold called his experience with the New Teacher Project "illuminating."

More broadly, Baltimore schools have had a great run at teacher recruitment this year. According to their director of human resources, Gary Thrift, 92 percent of this year's new teachers are highly qualified, compared to only 62 percent last year. The city's used some nifty tricks to up its recruiting, retention, and HQT numbers, and other urban districts would do well to take note:

* Two weeks of full-time paid orientation;

* 100% tuition reimbursement for critical subject areas;

* Starting teachers who did their student teaching for Baltimore City get started two steps up on the salary scale (and this bump doesn't disappear, either: it's a lifetime extra, which gives it a shot at being a meaningful retention incentive, not just a signing bonus);

* Smaller but meaningful incentives like laptop computers and $200 gift cards for classroom supplies.

We'd also like to note that 50 percent of this year's recruits came to teaching through some kind of unconventional route. The proportions are similar in New York as well. Teachers coming through alternate routes are providing the lion's share of new teachers to some of the nation's most troubled schools.