It Starts With Hiring

By guestblogger Laurie Walters, a veteran teacher at Los Angeles Unified School District who has been teaching students for over 30 years. She was also a member of the Educators 4 Excellence-LA 2013 Teacher Policy Team on attracting and retaining teachers. 

As a veteran teacher, I hear a lot about the importance of providing our students with 21st century skills. I’m often left scratching my head every time I watch our schools employ antiquated practices when it comes to setting themselves up to be successful.

Nowhere is this more pervasive than in the way many schools go about hiring teachers.  This includes the practices in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the nation’s second largest public school district. This district, where I currently work, still operates under a contractual system of “forced placement” where principals must make hiring decisions based solely on a candidate’s seniority and, if applicable, license area. Characteristics such as performance or mission, vision and culture fit hold no weight. It’s a system no modern organization would utilize to make hiring decisions, yet public schools do it year after year.

Not surprisingly, our schools end up with high teacher attrition and low student achievement. In LAUSD, more than ten percent of teachers are hired after the first day of school has already begun, and sixteen percent of educators in low-income schools are teaching outside their area of expertise. The median career length at a LAUSD school is less than three years and sixty percent of teachers leave the profession entirely within five years. Despite the obvious goal of bringing qualified and passionate teachers into the classroom, we’re setting ourselves up to fail before educators even reach the classroom.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Part of the problem is that most hiring decisions happen at the district level instead of the school level. As a result, both employers and candidates can’t screen each other for a proper fit. We need our district and union to agree to a system of mutual consent hiring, which decentralizes the process and gives employees and employers more choice and power over these critical decisions that affect our students, schools and careers. Principals should have the ability to base hiring decisions on a variety of factors and not just seniority. Teachers as well should be empowered to seek out schools that align best with their career objectives. We strongly believe schools should have thoughtful hiring processes that include diverse stakeholders such as teachers, community people, administrators, and perhaps students, and provide candidates with ample information to determine the best fit for schools and teachers. This was one of the recommendations a group of Educators 4 Excellence –LA members outlined in a policy paper released in June called Building for the Future: Attracting and Retaining Great Teachers in Hard to Staff Schools. I was a member of this all-teacher policy team and focused on ways districts can improve the hiring process for teachers and schools.

Instead of a rigid, top-down approach, our districts should empower local schools to tap into the collective potential of teachers, leaders and the community.

Not only should schools have more control over hiring, but they should also use the opportunity to get the entire school community invested in these decisions. That’s why the Policy Team of Teachers at E4E recommended the development of a “hiring toolkit,” which would provide a protocol for establishing hiring committees made up of teachers, school leaders and community members. The toolkit would also provide guiding questions for candidates, criteria for evaluating demo lessons and customizable rubrics for evaluating prospective teachers based on school goals, culture and mission.

What’s more, our districts must tap into and reward a teacher’s willingness to work in challenging environments. Our teacher-led team recommended using financial and non-financial means to incentivize teachers and principals to work in high needs schools. While much attention is often paid to financial incentives, I believe it’s critical that districts also offer non-monetary ways to attract talent to challenging schools. Principals should receive increased autonomy around hiring, curriculum and professional development while teachers should be provided leadership opportunities so they can advance in their careers while remaining in the classroom. Of course, there is a meaningful place for money in this conversation about attracting and keeping talent. Our districts can recognize great educators with financial rewards for teaching in high-need areas and helping to close the achievement gap. Money alone, however, won’t keep great talent. Like any talent-driven enterprise, our principals should to be trained in smart retention strategies and districts should provide pathways for teachers to lead, support peers and share best practices.

Better hiring alone won’t solve our retention issues, but it is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, we can’t snap our fingers and put these policies into place. We need the support of elected officials, policy makers and union leaders who need to understand their role in positioning teachers for success from the beginning. Stakeholders—from our mayors to our parents—need to realize exactly what we have to lose and gain when it comes to hiring, developing and keeping excellent teachers. Every great teacher we attract and keep in public education is inspiring and training the future of our colleges, communities, cities and nation.


10 Replies to “It Starts With Hiring”

  1. Is it really true that “most hiring decisions happen at the district level instead of the school level”? I’ve only ever been hired through processes based at the school level. Have I just happened to apply to unusual districts? Or do you just mean seniority-based reassignment?

  2. I mean everyone gets hired in this manner within LAUSD unless they know someone at the school site. Then they have a direct connection and can hope for a better interview. This happens sometimes with student teachers or new teachers who know somebody. It may only be LAUSD but that is where we are looking to use the policy first. Laurie

  3. I think a number of people interview at school sites, but the decision lies with the district. However, there are cases when the district gives someone a contract before finding them a school (although I think that’s rare). The more tragic examples came with displacements – schools were forced to take teachers based on seniority, not on the best fit. I know Laurie has direct knowledge of this and she hit the nail on the head.

  4. Laurie,

    Why would a 30+ year teacher get involved with E$E? I ask that seriously. Contrary to what a lot of the media reports, here in NYC E$E has been exposed as an AstroTurf grassroots organization controlled by the wealthy elite, like Gates, with privatization intentions. Truth be told, E$E didn’t expand outside of NYC, they left because they couldn’t get a foothold.

  5. I have to agree with Les and Paul.

    My words, not theirs, but I wonder how much real world knowledge you have about the way systems work. Once you learn, I bet, you’ll see them differently. You can get your start this way, but revolutions eat their young. How do you retain teachers after you’ve given away all power to protect your profession?

    By the way, seniority is our 1st Amendment. Give it away, and you’ve given away your ability to communicate honestly. For a teacher, that’s not a little thing. You are stuck with sucking up to power to survive.

    Mend but don’t end seniority. As Jefferson said, those who would give up their fundamental rights for temporary advantage will keep neither their freedom or their integrity.h

  6. In NYC, the largest school district teachers have been hired at the school site since the early 90s … in many schools teachers serve on the interviewing committees, and the teacher atrtition rate – 50% within five years – is the same as LAUSD, Susan Moore Johnson at Harvard and NYC Alliance for School Research looked at the issue – teachers move from lower to higher achieving schools, from high crime to safer neighborhoods, and, unfortunately part of the issue generational … (“I want to check out the music scene in Austin”) … we live in a less rooted world … no easy answers … and as the economy continues to improve more teachers will move on.

  7. The focus on school-based hiring in reports like this ignores the deeper problems with attracting teacher talent at challenging public schools. As other commenters noted, NYC has given hiring authority to its principals since the 90s and it has had a marginal impact on student results. Just because you’re a principal does not mean you know how to construct and implement an effective recruitment program for your school.

    In general, education treats hiring like the wild west. Districts take the position that principals “know best” and go with their guts or they implement ridiculous processes like the one in the link that Paul posted. Why does LAUSD need half those documents? Most are sent as part of the certification process and who cares what you did in your student teaching five years ago? And good organizations pick up the phone and call references- who writes anything on letterhead in 2013? Please. A process like this is just one reason why charters in the LA area have an easier time attracting talented experienced teachers who are mobile. It’s the kids of LAUSD who lose out.

    High functioning organizations focus on process and expertise over policy in their drive to ensure they have the right team. When I read reports like the one linked to, I am deeply concerned about the inherent confusion that these organizations have between policy and process and am sad that it’s a distraction from what needs to happen to make the changes schools need.

  8. LAUSD no longer has to recognize seniority. The ACLU decided that a few years ago when they saw that RiF and displacements were hitting high need schools like Markum MS harder than the burbs where district officials insisted veteran teachers refused to work.
    This is misinformation that has become a handy way around the Constitutional rights of teachers. 1000s have been illegally forced out of their jobs, most over 40 and about to vest in lifetime healthcare and pensions. It is an ugly professional holocaust that will allow Eli Broad, Wasserman, Waltons, Bill Gates and others to destroy public education. Test factories and temps are the new wave of the future. As Leonard Cohen put it, I’ve seen the future and it is murder.
    Educators for Excellence is a phony organization financed by the enemies of Democracy and human rights.
    No one should take this writer seriously. The agenda here is purely subversive and sick

  9. I have seen where you would be hired if you knew the principal or a staff member personally and get an interview. Sometimes you cannot get an interview unless you know someone. I feel that we should be hired by our knowledge and what we can bring to teach our students. As a new teacher, I look up to the expert teacher and learn everything I can from them to include in my knowledge that I already know. Sometimes it is the opposite way, but we learn from each other. I feel that when schools are hiring they need to look at the knowledge that is already there and maybe the person interviewing can bring more in-depth knowledge of any content area. For example, where I was hired in all the teachers knew their subject content, but struggled with including technology. This is where I came in to help show them ways to use the different technology for educational purposes to create a better student success. Everyone is different and we all deserve an equal opportunity when it comes to being hired for a teaching position.

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