Giving Kids the Chaff: How to Find and Keep the Teachers We Need

September 25, 2006 • Policy Analysis No. 579

Executive Summary

New research on the role that teachers play in student achievement is demonstrating that higher‐ quality teachers can significantly improve educational outcomes, especially among poor students. But finding and retaining the best teachers remains a struggle for school administrators, and political considerations often prevent school districts from attracting and hiring high‐​quality teachers.

Although many of the attributes that make great teachers are elusive, school administrators seldom hire teachers possessing the qualities that are known to boost student achievement. In fact, high‐​ability teaching candidates may fare worse than their lower‐​ability counterparts because of biases in the hiring and compensation system, and they are more likely to leave the profession after a few years for other careers.

Across‐​the‐​board salary increases will not improve the quality of the teaching profession as a whole because salary increases draw more weak teaching applicants as well as strong ones, and dysfunctional hiring processes prevent the best applicants from being chosen from an enlarged applicant pool.

Only new hiring policies that effectively separate the wheat from the chaff can transform the teaching profession. But administrators are unlikely to change their hiring practices unless they are given real incentives to do so. In districts where school choice fosters competition among schools, public school administrators seek out higher‐​performing applicants and work harder to retain them. That effect is especially pronounced in low‐​income districts and can meaningfully improve educational outcomes for poor students. School choice can help improve the quality of the teacher labor force, thereby boosting student achievement and restoring meritocracy to the education system.

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