The Secret, a recent movie, promotes the law of attraction, the notion that we attract what we think about. Can district leaders attract great teachers by simply thinking about what their schools would be like if all positions were filled with highly qualified individuals? It might be a good exercise for vision setting, but research suggests that schools need to match recruitment and retention efforts to the characteristics and motivations of teachers and teaching candidates.
Very little research focuses on the selection of effective teachers, so this discussion will focus on highly qualified teachers. To attract highly qualified teachers, district leaders can partner with teacher preparation programs, streamline the hiring process, and offer a locally competitive compensation package. Some research suggests that schools could retain more teachers if school leaders promote good working conditions, an atmosphere of collegial support, meaningful involvement in decision making, and a focus on student learning.
Partnerships with regional teacher preparation programs can be especially beneficial for hard-to-staff schools and schools in rural or urban settings. We know that nationally, teaching positions are hardest to fill in science, mathematics and special education. Such partnerships can support a "grow-your-own" approach by establishing pathways to the teaching profession for local high school students, out of field teachers, school paraprofessionals and second-career adults. This approach increases the pool of teacher candidates who are motivated to seek local employment because of ties to the community. Districts should concentrate their efforts on subject areas in which teacher shortages are acute. A district can also team with institutions of higher education to ensure that teacher candidates are prepared to work in its local setting.
Hiring practices, and not a small applicant pool, may be the problem in some districts. When The New Teacher Project studied hiring in four hard-to-staff urban districts, researchers found that strategic recruitment yielded a multitude of applicants, but many of the best candidates withdrew their applications before hiring decisions were made in mid- to late summer. Withdrawers "had significantly higher GPAs and were 40 percent more likely to have a degree in their teaching field than new hires." The majority of those who withdrew cited late hiring as their reason for accepting employment elsewhere. The researchers recommended that district leaders work with teacher unions and others toward requiring earlier notification by teachers who plan to retire or resign, reforming collective bargaining transfer requirements, addressing budget barriers, and streamlining the hiring process.
RAND researcher Cassandra Guarino and associates recently reviewed the empirical literature on teacher recruitment and retention and confirmed that teacher compensation is also a factor, noting that teachers' job decisions can be influenced by salaries offered in other districts and in fields outside of teaching. However, dissatisfaction with salary is not the only reason teachers switch jobs. According to Sabrina Laine, director of the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality, "Research shows that teachers often leave high-poverty, low-performing, at risk schools because they have not been adequately prepared to teach in such challenging environments and lack much needed support from administrators."
Support for new teachers often takes the form of induction and mentoring programs. Guarino and associates' analyses of recent Schools and Staffing Surveys found lower turnover rates among beginning teachers in schools with induction and mentoring programs, especially when the programs emphasized collegial support. The Education Commission of the States found limited evidence of their effectiveness in its 2005 review of 91 studies on recruitment and retention.
Interview data from a recent study conducted by Pamela Angelle suggest that principals' involvement in teacher induction can improve retention. For example, principals can provide "professional socialization" in the form of frequent discussion, monitoring and feedback, which can lead to such gains. "Findings indicate socializing into an ineffective school will either promulgate ineffective practices or will produce an internal conflict. At schools where principals were 'all about the kids,' teachers demonstrated loyalty and voiced intentions to remain in teaching."
Working conditions and personal satisfaction play a role in both novice and veteran teachers' decisions about whether to stay. After surveying 2,000 current and former teachers in California, researcher Ken Futernick concluded that teachers felt greater personal satisfaction when they believed in their own efficacy, were involved in decision making, and established strong collegial relationships. In addition, Guarino and associates found that schools are more likely to keep teachers if they offer them greater autonomy and administrative support.
Edvantia is an education research organization (www.edvantia.org).