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

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Executive Summary

New research on the role that teachers play instudent achievement is demonstrating that higher-quality teachers can significantly improveeducational outcomes, especially among poorstudents. But finding and retaining the bestteachers remains a struggle for school administrators,and political considerations often preventschool districts from attracting and hiringhigh-quality teachers.

Although many of the attributes that makegreat teachers are elusive, school administratorsseldom hire teachers possessing the qualitiesthat are known to boost student achievement. Infact, high-ability teaching candidates may fareworse than their lower-ability counterpartsbecause of biases in the hiring and compensationsystem, and they are more likely to leave the professionafter a few years for other careers.

Across-the-board salary increases will notimprove the quality of the teaching profession asa whole because salary increases draw more weakteaching applicants as well as strong ones, anddysfunctional hiring processes prevent the bestapplicants from being chosen from an enlargedapplicant pool.

Only new hiring policies that effectively separatethe wheat from the chaff can transform theteaching profession. But administrators areunlikely to change their hiring practices unlessthey are given real incentives to do so. In districtswhere school choice fosters competition amongschools, public school administrators seek outhigher-performing applicants and work harderto retain them. That effect is especially pronouncedin low-income districts and can meaningfullyimprove educational outcomes for poorstudents. School choice can help improve thequality of the teacher labor force, thereby boostingstudent achievement and restoring meritocracyto the education system.

Marie Gryphon

Marie Gryphon is director of educational programs at the Institute for Humane Studies and an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute.