TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin

How one district streamlined and bolstered new teacher hiring

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Every district HR department looks to find ways to limit the number of time-consuming interviews of new teacher applicants. A few weeks ago, Politico ran a story about "Big Data" tools designed to give districts a better idea of who is "interview worthy" based on the perceived skills of candidates (e.g., Teacher Match) and next gen versions of the old school questionnaires that attempt to elicit the "attitudes" of teacher applicants (e.g., Gallup's TeacherInsight Assessment and the Haberman Star Teacher).

An encouraging new study from Dan Goldhaber and colleagues examines the Spokane School District's home-grown, skills-based screening process. It argues that by using a two-stage evaluation process that relies heavily on data generated from letters of recommendation, principals are able to limit precious interview time to only higher-caliber applicants, resulting in better hiring.


The process seems to be working: scores on the second stage of the pre-interview screening positively (and with statistical significance) predict value-added measures of effectiveness. Also, teachers hired by Spokane School District showed higher rates of retention as opposed to those not hired by Spokane who were teaching elsewhere in Washington State.

Ratings on applicants' classroom management skills stand out as having the most predictive power, piquing our interest in what exactly Spokane principal/supervisor screeners are looking for in applicants with regards to classroom management. The bottom line: even though the district's rubric related to classroom management is fairly cryptic (i.e., "effective[ly] handl[e]... large/small, ethnically/sociologically diverse groups"), it appears that screeners are still able to zero in on enough in the letters of recommendation to identify candidates who are most likely to be effective.

Given how unsystematic Spokane's protocol appears to be— screeners receive no training on how to apply the rubric—it probably helps that 71 percent of hired teachers have had some previous experience in Spokane as an employee, a student teacher or both; the study's authors note that "screeners may be familiar with those who are writing the letters of recommendation."

We have one minor quibble. We wonder how much better Spokane could do in hiring if it tightened up the protocol for evaluating classroom management skills and used more structured interviews to evaluate applicants.