TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin

The early bird gets the better teacher candidate pool

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Pervasive late hiring processes hinder districts' ability to hire high-quality teacher candidates, yet still many districts can't seem to rise out of this rut. Finally, there is some helpful guidance from Minneapolis Public Schools demonstrating what districts can do about it.

While most of the research focuses on the negative impact of late hires, a recent study shows the benefits of implementing an early hiring process in Minneapolis Public Schools. Ultimately, MPS—a large urban district that hires 300+ teachers each year—was able to increase the size of the applicant pool and hires for hard-to-staff sites by dramatically changing its talent acquisition process to create an "early hire" strategy.

How did they do it? Prior to 2014, MPS—like most districts' hiring systems—prioritized seniority. That meant that internal candidates (teachers already working in MPS looking to transfer to another school) interviewed for open positions before any external candidates were considered.

In 2014, a new senior director of talent acquisition implemented an "interview and select" system that was then sanctioned by the local teachers union. First, the initial screening of external candidates was made more rigorous, with the district centralizing the interview process and introducing more structure to their formats. At this point, early employment contracts were extended to the most promising external candidates who were then allowed into the internal labor market. In doing so, the district did not guarantee these applicants a job offer; it merely gave them "employment status" so they could compete in the internal labor market and interview alongside incumbents.

The "early hiring" process was organized into five phases.

  • Phase I: Once incumbents and early-offer teachers applied for open positions, principals and site-based hiring teams interviewed the five most senior candidates and up to five additional candidates of their choosing.
    • The additional five candidates could be incumbents or early-offer teachers.
    • There were no formal flags in the centralized system indicating whether a candidate was an incumbent or early-offer teacher.
    • After interviews were complete, schools ranked their top four candidates, and the centralized system made an offer to the top-ranked candidate.
  • Phase II: The process was repeated from the beginning to fill positions vacated by incumbents who moved in the first round, as well as any other positions that had come open.

  • Phase III: The remaining candidates were placed in a "speed dating" round to make a final few matches.

  • Phase IV: Any early-offer candidates who weren't matched were released and moved into the standard external hiring process.

From Keo, C., et al. (2020). Do Early-Offers Equal Better Teachers? Journal of Applied Educational and Policy Research, 5(1).

MPS' efforts initially proved successful in several ways. Early-offer teachers were more likely to apply to hard-to-staff schools in the district. Additionally, early-offer teachers actually received more interview offers (once you exclude the automatic interviews offered to incumbents in Phase 1) and were more likely to be ranked as one of the top four candidates. Ultimately, they received more job offers—though they also applied for more jobs.

Nevertheless, there were mixed results as to whether the new strategy was the right move in terms of increasing the quality of new teachers available to the district. Researchers who studied the strategy applied three metrics (value-added, student surveys, and classroom observations) to assess the quality of the early-offer teachers relative to other new teachers and incumbents in the district. The early offer teachers got better results on student surveys (which has been found to closely correlate with test scores), but the incumbent teachers had higher scores on value-added and classroom observations. However, those early-offer teachers who received multiple job offers performed higher on both student surveys and formal observations, suggesting that Minneapolis could use their success to further refine this program—and accomplish a slam dunk for greater teacher quality.