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Wanted: Good teachers

Having a good teacher in each classroom is the foundation of a good school. Among other staffing challenges, even normal attrition requires school districts to be constantly on the lookout for good teachers. The essence of a recruitment program is “not to hire just to fill a position, but rather to acquire the number and type of people necessary for the present and future success of the school district” (Rebore 2001).

For school districts that are already hard-pressed to fill positions, often on short notice, taking a more strategic approach to recruitment can be challenging. The following summary of recruitment strategies can help districts identify what works elsewhere and tailor those strategies to local needs and context.

  • Identifying your district's challenges
  • Avoiding pitfalls
  • Building a recruitment program
  • Recruiting before and during college
  • Recruiting during teacher education
  • Finding teachers after college: Alternative certification
  • Offering financial incentive: Does money work?
  • Retaining teachers: Beyond recruitment
  • Moving forward: Ten steps for school board members

Identifying your district’s challenges

Although “the teacher shortage” is often cited as a major factor in school staffing problems, there is no shortage of teacher candidates overall (e.g., Gau et al. 2003, Hare and Nathan 1999). Rather, districts are more likely to confront subject-area shortages, especially in science, math, special education, bilingual education, and English as a second language (Clewell and Forcier 2001, Eubanks 1996, Hammer, Hughes, McClure, Reeves, and Salgado 2005). Neill (2006) has also noted a shortfall in elementary and multi-subject teachers.

A note on research

Data on teacher shortages and teacher recruitment can be hard to find. Many of the descriptive studies and early statistics date from the late 1900s and early 2000s, and it is unknown to what extent their findings and recommendations remain relevant to today's recruiting environment. In early 2008, the Department of Education released the latest SASS teacher survey data, but no analysis of that data were available at publication time

Specific geographic areas also have challenges, particularly rural and urban schools which face special difficulties (Hardy 1998, Stover 2007, Hammer et al. 2005, Pendarvis 2005). Rural schools experience shortages because their teachers often have comparatively lower pay; face geographic and social isolation and difficult working conditions, such as having to teach classes in multiple subject areas; and lack professional development opportunities (McClure and Reeves 2004). Low-achieving schools in urban areas also have problems. Overall, only about 15 percent of expert teachers (experienced teachers who have proven they can produce above-average gains in student achievement) teach in high-poverty, underachieving schools (Amrein-Beardsley 2007).

As a result, school board members should identify what their district’s challenges are before thinking about recruitment programs. Here are some sample questions:

  • Where are your district’s teacher shortages? Are they geographic? Subject-specific?
  • Where are your district’s teachers coming from now?
  • When do teachers leave, and where are they going?
  • Look at surrounding districts. Can you learn anything from what they are doing?
  • What is the current recruitment plan? Is there a state data pool used to fill positions? Where does the district recruitment plan look for candidates? Does it involve local universities?

Avoiding pitfall

After identifying your district’s challenges, look at its hiring practices. Even when aggressive recruitment efforts attract many applicants, poor hiring

Recruiting Teachers from Other Countries
Seeking teachers abroad is one of the more controversial and innovative measures taken to recruit teachers. The surplus of teaching professionals in many foreign countries has made Chicago Public Schools and school districts in Dallas, Los Angeles, and New York pursue them (McCoubrey 2001). For instance, the Prince George’s school district in Maryland employed about 400 Filipino teachers, and other districts in Maryland, including Baltimore and Anne Arundel County, also hired Filipino teachers (Washington Post Magazine, August 4, 2008).
processes and bureaucratic red tape can thwart progress. The available research sheds some light on problem areas from applicants’ point of view.

 Hiring processes. Liu and Johnson (2006) examined teacher recruitment in California, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Florida and found that their processes relied greatly on paper credentials and interviews without observing candidates teaching. Also, few candidates interviewed with teachers. This step could assess whether or not the candidate would be a good fit.

Clement (2008) suggests schools borrow an interview technique used in the business world—behavior-based interviewing. This technique is used to assess a candidate’s skills, background, and experiences by asking questions that require them to discuss past situations and problems and how they were resolved. 
Districts might also consider examining paper credentials more closely. Data to look at would include teachers’ Praxis exam scores, the selectivity of their teachers’ college, and whether teachers have a major or a minor in their subject.

Delayed hiring. Delayed hiring decisions are another roadblock. Delayed hiring is usually the result of:

  • Late or nonexistent notification requirements for exiting teachers.
  • Teacher union transfer requirements that give existing teachers the first pick of openings, creating incentives for principals to hide their vacancies until the transfer period is over.
  • A budget process that leaves districts unsure as to which positions will be funded.

These common practices result in the withdrawal of the best candidates, particularly in large urban districts (Levin and Quinn 2003, Loeb and Reininger 2004). Changing these policies would be an excellent school board task.

License reciprocity. Each year 60,000 newly prepared teachers do not find jobs in the states where they prepared to teach, and many veteran teachers leave the profession when they move because of license incompatibilities (Darling-Hammond 2000). Darling-Hammond advocates establishing license reciprocity across states. The Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC), which developed common standards and high-quality assessments of teachers, would enable new and veteran teachers in states with surpluses to move more easily to states that experience shortfalls. More than thirty states have now adopted the INTASC standards and nearly that many are piloting new assessments of teaching knowledge and skill through the INTASC state consortium. In addition, more than twenty states have enacted rules granting a license to teachers who have National Board Certification.

Building a recruitment program

When developing a recruitment program, realize that much of the recent information about various recruitment strategies is found in articles, reports, or descriptive studies that offer little data about their ultimate effectiveness. However, the program descriptions show that most of the ones that are successful in recruiting teachers are tailored to local needs and contexts. The examples that follow show how different districts worked with local resources to develop programs that targeted prospective teachers at two times: before and during college, and after college through alternative certification programs. 



From State and Local Implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act – Volume II, Teacher Quality under NCLB – Interim Report, 2008, U.S. Department of Education.

Recruiting before and during college

Some districts focus on interesting young people in teaching before they enter college. Byrd (2002) examined a South Carolina program—the Teacher

Who’s Entering Teaching

  • Those entering teaching are mostly white non-Hispanic, and female.
  • Nationally, only 8 percent of teachers are black, compared to about 17 percent of public school students.
  • The most academically accomplished college graduates tend not to go into teaching, although this is primarily true of elementary rather than secondary teachers (Broughman and Rollefson 2000, Hayes 2007, Guarino, Santibanez, and Daley 2006).
  • Salary was less important to education majors than it was to non-education majors. Education majors ranked salary eighth in importance, while it was ranked third in importance by non-education majors (Shipp 1999).
  • Working with students is a leading reason for teaching (Bradley and Loadman 2005).
  • Those who remain in [music] education cite their love of both children and the subject area (Tarnowski and Murphy 2003).
Cadet Program which is designed to give high school students insight into the nature and problems of teaching. As of 2008, more than 42,000 students participated in the Teacher Cadet program, and 37 percent of them indicated plans to pursue teaching upon entering college (CERRA 2008).

The South Carolina Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention & Advancement, which runs the Teacher Cadet Program, also runs several others. For example, it offers a course designed to interest middle school students in education. It also holds a weeklong institute for black male high school freshmen and another for rising high school seniors interested in teaching.

Some studies suggest new recruits, especially in areas of critical need (e.g.,  math, science, bilingual education) might be found during college by targeting undergraduate students not enrolled in teacher preparation programs. For example, Moin, Dorfield, and Schunn examined 1,263 science, engineering, and math undergraduates to find those interested in teaching. Large proportions (e.g., 45 percent and 66 percent in two of the institutions) of science, engineering, and math undergraduates possessed an interest in teaching, which increased in the junior and senior years. Such students might seriously consider a teaching career if given the information and encouragement to do so.

The UTeach program at the University of Texas-Austin provides a way to recruit current math and science undergraduates into teaching. The program provides students with a flexible entry plan into the teaching program, no matter how far along they are with their degree. It also recruits incoming freshmen, those who already hold a non-education degree, and certified teachers seeking an advanced degree. Seventy percent of UTeach graduates who begin teaching are still teaching after five years versus 50 percent of teachers nationally (UTeach 2008).

Finally, some Maryland community colleges actively recruit students to teaching careers. They locate candidates by identifying high academic achievers, minority students, undeclared students, students already employed as teacher aides, or mid-career students seeking a career change (Anglin, Mooradian, and Hamilton 1993).

Recruiting during teacher education

Partnerships with regional colleges and universities have been especially successful. Districts can work with colleges and universities to target recruitment to specific areas of need, such as math or special education. These partnerships can also help prepare new teachers for the specific needs or challenges of the local schools.

A stellar example, the Pathways to Teaching Careers Program—which was funded by the Wallace Foundation from 1989 to 2001—operated in forty colleges and universities and enrolled more than 2,600 teaching candidates, of which approximately two-thirds were minorities. Partnerships between the universities and local school districts ensured that preservice teachers were being prepared for assignments that the schools really needed. In turn, the districts agreed to place graduates in high-needs schools.

The program not only surpassed its numeric recruitment goals, but the 75 percent completion rate for participants was higher than the national rate at the time, which was 60 percent of students in traditional preservice programs (Clewell and Villegas 2001). Further, Pathways graduates were perceived by their supervisors, principals, and an independent assessor to be more effective than typical beginning teachers. They were also more likely to remain teaching for at least three years (Clewell and Villegas 2001). The program prepared new teachers to accept potentially difficult teaching positions fully aware of the challenges, making them less likely to quit.

If your district is looking to establish a partnership, consider the local community college. Recruiting anyone other than the new, four-year college graduate often requires the flexibility of a community college. And many teacher recruitment programs in community colleges have articulation agreements, which allow students to transfer straight to a four-year program without losing any credits. This significantly boosts the rate of students completing bachelor degrees (Hudson 2000). Finally, because community colleges often have student populations with large groups of ethnic minorities, they can fill a unique role in the recruitment of minority teachers (Eubanks and Weaver 1999).

Finding teachers after college: Alternative certification

At least 140 programs across the nation provide alternative routes to securing a teaching license (Glass 2008). Generally, alternative teacher certification programs are intended for those who have subject-matter knowledge but lack formal teacher preparation from higher education. Such programs were rare prior to 1985, but the National Science Board (2008) reports that 11 percent of all public school teachers and 15 percent of math and science teachers now hold alternative certifications. Most seem to be concentrated in hard-to-staff schools and poor urban areas.

What does the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) say about highly qualified teachers?

NCLB requires that all students are taught by a “highly qualified teacher.” The law defines a highly qualified teacher as:

  • One who has a college degree.
  • One who demonstrates content knowledge in the subject taught.
  • One who holds state certification or licensure.

The law allows states to add to this definition and gives them flexibility to determine which tests they use for teacher certification along with the level of test proficiency that defines "highly qualified."

NCLB also requires that schools provide professional development for those entering teaching via alternate routes (e.g., career changers). Along with professional development, these teachers must also receive intensive supervision and make progress sufficient to achieve full teacher certification.

The deadline for meeting these requirements was the 2005–2006 school year. Because NCLB has not been reauthorized since then, these requirements still hold.

But with No Child Left Behind’s requirements for highly qualified teachers, more questions have been raised about alternative certified teachers’ effectiveness and quality. In general, most studies have found that alternative certified teachers are about as effective as traditionally prepared teachers. For example, studies of Teach For America (TFA) recruits showed that students of TFA teachers performed about as well as others (Glazerman, Mayer and Decker 2006, Darling-Hammond, Holtzman, Gatlin and Helig 2005). But a national survey of alternative certification programs also found a great deal of variation between and within the programs (Humphrey and Wechsler 2007). The quality appeared to be a function of the unique interaction between the program as implemented, the school, and the participant. Districts should examine their own data to determine the success of alternative certification programs in helping to attract and keep quality teachers.

Despite their potential drawbacks, it appears that well-run alternative certification programs can help schools achieve particular goals and objectives. Research provides “limited evidence” that alternative programs can recruit ethnically diverse candidates for teaching (Education Commission of the States 2005). Others are designed to address teacher shortages in specific subject areas (Connelly 2003).

So what makes a successful alternative certification program? Look for a program that addresses the specific needs of career changers by focusing on

  • how to be successful teachers,
  • candidates’ need to learn about students, schools, and teaching, and
  • well-organized programs that take advantage of students’ limited time to learn a new career.

Grow Your Own Illinois is an example of a successful project for recruiting candidates, especially minorities, from lower-income neighborhoods (Grow Your Own Illinois 2008). The program targets three nontraditional sources of potential candidates:

  • Paraeducators, such as teacher assistants, special education assistants, school clerks, and other support staff.
  • Parents or community residents active in the school.
  • Members and leaders of community organizations active on education issues.

By 2008, the program had trained at least 1,000 fully qualified teachers who have previous ties to the low-income communities where they will work.

Finally, in some states schools are able to attract retired teachers back to the classroom (American Teacher 2001, Grant 2001). Piercynski and colleagues (1997) suggest that substitute teachers and teachers’ aides may also be an overlooked source of recruits.

Percentage of Districts Providing Alternative Certification Routes, Financial Incentives, Streamlined Hiring Processes, Higher Education Partnerships, or Targeted Efforts to Recruit Highly Qualified Teachers, by District Characteristics, 2003–2004

  Partnerships With Higher Education Streamlined Hiring Processes* Financial Incentives (e.g., increased salaries, signing bonuses) Alternate Certification Routes Targeted Efforts to Attract Teachers in Hard-to-Staff Subjects
All districts 40% (5.75%) 35% (5.89%) 23% (6.21%) 20% (3.81%) 36% (6.14%)
By district poverty level
High-poverty 81% (8.12%) 50% (10.91%) 29% (8.84%) 51% (3.50%) 67% (3.01%)
Medium poverty 51% (9.36%) 45% (8.72%) 20% (7.55%) 35% (2.80%) 29% (2.32%)
Low-poverty 29% (7.78%) 32% (9.36%) 18% (8.93%) 7% (0.78%) 29% (2.82%)
By district minority concentration
High-minority 33% (15.41%) 37% (18.57%) 75% (12.68%) 40% (19.45%) 66% (17.92%)
Medium minority 67% (10.04%) 50% (9.44%) 25% (7.82%) 32% (8.31%) 46% (9.77%)
Low-minority 32% (6.77%) 30% (7.51%) 12% (6.87%) 12% (3.79%) 27% (7.09%)
By district urbanicity
Urban 61% (15.51%) 54% (14.92%) 16% (5.71%) 32% (11.57%) 63% (15.79%)
Suburban 39% (7.59%) 28% (6.35%) 23% (9.25%) 13% (3.79%) 39% (8.59%)
Rural 37% (9.51%) 39% (10.92%) 24% (10.05%) 25% (7.59%) 27% (9.87%)
By district size
Large 80% (6.76%) 69% (8.10%) 32% (9.12%) 48% (8.86%) 77% (7.02%)
Medium 70% (6.66%) 66% (6.89%) 19% (7.10%) 32% (7.78%) 54% (8.15%)
Small 27% (6.29%) 24% (7.18%) 23% (8.24%) 14% (4.25%) 27% (8.02%)
Exhibit Reads: Forty percent of districts used partnership with higher education, to recruit highly qualified teachers in 2003–04.
Note 1: n = 278 to 284.
Note 2: For streamlined hiring processes, 33% (9.21%) of large districts, 25.5% (7.60%) of medium districts and 3% (2.56%) of small districts initiated these activities within the past three years.
Source: NLS-NCLB, District Survey.

Offering financial incentive: Does money work?

Many states have financial incentives in their hiring policies (Rowland and Coble 2005). Despite the interest in offering bonuses to attract teachers to hard-to-staff schools, research does not seem to support the strategy. Winter and Melloy (2005) conducted a study that showed a 10 percent signing bonus did not increase the attractiveness of teaching vacancies in high- or low-performing schools. Another study, however, indicated that offering alternative certification along with a financial incentive was a more important factor in canditates' decision to take a job in hard to place schools than offering a signing bonus alone (Liu, Johnson and Peske 2004).

The federal “Teacher Next Door” program allows certified teachers to buy houses owned by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, typically in economically distressed neighborhoods, at a 50 percent discount. In return, teachers are required to live in the house for at least three years (American Teacher 2001). Such programs are not often evaluated for effectiveness, but it seems that such incentives might be particularly helpful in rural areas, where finding suitable housing is a common problem.

Teachers are more likely to choose the profession when starting wages are high relative to wages in other occupations (Loeb and Reininge 2004). Other salary incentives have shown mixed results, perhaps because other factors. For example, working conditions and location have been shown to affect decisions to teach.

Percentage of Districts Reporting Using Various Incentives to Retain Highly Qualified Teachers, 2003–04, by District Characteristics

Characteristics Collegial Learning Activities (e.g., common planning time) Sustained Mentoring or Induction Programs Financial Incentives (e.g., merit pay, stipends for course-work) Special Career Enhancement Opportunities (e.g., career ladders) Instructional Coaching or Master Teacher Program
All districts

82% (6.04%)

69% (7.06%) 60% (6.47%) 50% (6.60%) 50% (6.64%)
By district poverty level
High-poverty 95% (3.66%) 82% (9.52%) 61% (10.85%) 50% (10.96%) 69% (11.04%)
Medium poverty 80% (8.98%) 76% (9.37%) 55% (9.59%) 53% (9.49%) 57% (10.11%)
Low-poverty 77% (10.28%) 55% (10.83%) 73% (8.00%) 48% (10.36%) 32% (7.73%)
By district minority concentration
High-minority 83% (14.92%) 79% (15.38%) 49% (21.82%) 72% (16.54%) 77% (15.56%)
Medium minority 97% (1.97%) 92% (1.86%) 58% (10.06%) 46% (9.69%) 91% (5.36%)
Low-minority 77% (8.38%) 57% (8.92%) 63% (7.73%) 48% (8.54%) 32% (6.52%)
By district urbanicity
Urban 98% (1.83%) 99% (0.24%) 49% (14.15%) 41% (13.05%) 90% (5.46%)
Suburban 87% (5.64%) 77% (7.63%) 53% (8.90%) 58% (8.28%) 64% (8.42%)
Rural 73% (11.56%) 51% (11.47%) 70% (9.48%) 44% (11.35%) 23% (6.63%)
By district size
Large 98% (1.23%) 98% (0.95%) 70% (8.35%) 51% (8.83%) 85% (6.49%)
Medium 98% (1.17%) 94% (2.21%) 73% (6.68%) 63% (6.96%) 75% (5.85%)
Small 76% (8.01%) 58% (8.86%) 56% (8.52%) 51% (8.74%) 38% (8.06%)
Exhibit Reads: Eighty-two percent of districts reported providing collegial learning activities to retain highly qualified teachers, in 2003–04.
Note: n = 286 to 289.
Source: NLS-NCLB, District Survey.

Retaining teachers: Beyond recruitment

According to a 2003 study from the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, nearly 33 percent of new teachers leave the classroom after

More Information
Links are provided below for more information on the programs mentioned in this summary.

three years, and almost 50 percent leave after five years (NCTAF 2003). Making retention a part of any recruitment program will save school districts time, effort, and money.

Data from a California school district illustrates the potential of a good retention program for new teachers. The district partnered with the New Teacher Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz, to establish an induction program. Within three years the district traded its 75 percent turnover rate for an 87 percent retention rate (Maciejewski 2007). But another study shows that districts have room for improvement: In a representative random sample of first- and second-year teachers in California, Florida, Massachusetts, and Michigan, one-half to two-thirds reported that they plan and teach without peer or mentor support or involvement. Less than half reported that extra assistance was available (Kardos and Johnson 2007).

The Teacher Fellows Program in Texas gives first-year teachers mentoring and induction advice based on a no-additional-cost exchange of resources between the university and partner school districts. As a result, the university gains additional teaching resources, participating school districts become collaborative partners in the teacher preparation program, first-year teachers have intensive support in their induction year and earn a master’s degree in education, master teachers participate in professional development, and university faculty see firsthand the complexities of today’s classrooms (Davis et al. 2001).

Schools might retain more teachers in general if school leaders promote good working conditions, an atmosphere of collegial support, meaningful involvement in decision making, and a focus on student learning (Angelle 2006, Futernick 2007). Guarino, Santibanez, and Daley (2006) found competitive salaries, mentoring and induction programs, teacher autonomy, and administrative support to be associated with lower teacher attrition. Johnson and Kardos (2002) identified three features of a supportive professional culture—one that has teacher leaders, on-site and just-in-time professional development, and effective principals. Those who connect the dots between teacher recruitment, retention, and school administration will save themselves time and expense.




From State and Local Implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act – Volume II, Teacher Quality under NCLB – Interim Report, 2008, U.S. Department of Education.

Moving forward: Ten steps for school board members

1. Match recruitment strategies to local needs by examining your local data about turnover in specific subject areas, grade levels, and schools.
2. Continue or establish partnerships with colleges, universities, and teacher preparation programs.
3. Establish programs that help secondary school students and community members involved in the school (e.g., school paraprofessionals) to explore teaching as a profession.
4. If possible, hire successful, qualified substitute teachers and retired teachers to fill full-time positions.
5. Use targeted financial incentives such as housing assistance to attract highly-qualified teachers.
6. Whenever possible, offer locally competitive salaries.
7. Evaluate the effectiveness of incentive packages.
8. Examine local recruitment and retention data to determine the efficacy of recruiting alternatively certified teachers.
9. Improve hiring policies and practices.
10. Establish an induction program to help new teachers succeed.

This summary is based on a review conducted for the Center for Public Education by researchers at Edvantia, an education research and development not-for-profit corporation founded in 1966. For more information, see Research Review: Teacher Recruitment: Current Strategies and Their Effectiveness. [PDF]

Posted: October 8, 2008

©2008 Center for Public Education

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