Research News

Attracting effective teachers may require new strategic initiatives


Large urban school districts may need to adopt new strategies to draw prospective teachers to the most disadvantaged and geographically isolated schools, according to research from Vanderbilt University to be published in an upcoming issue of the American Education Research Journal.

Findings indicate that teachers preferred to teach in schools and neighborhoods that were both geographically close to where they lived and socially familiar, according to lead author Mimi Engel, assistant professor of public policy and education in the Peabody College of education and human development at Vanderbilt. Co-authors are Brian A. Jacob of the University of Michigan and F. Chris Curran, a Ph.D. student at Peabody.

In the paper, “New Evidence on Teacher Labor Supply,” the researchers reported that:

  • Teachers were substantially less likely to apply to schools in higher poverty areas.
  • Geographic location was an important predictor of number of applicants.
  • Teachers tended to apply to schools in close proximity to their own neighborhoods.
  • School preferences varied by applicant characteristics (for example, Hispanic candidates were more likely to apply to schools serving larger proportions of students with “limited English proficiency,” or LEP).
  • Many of the most highly qualified applicants did not apply to schools serving disadvantaged students. Teachers with degrees in mathematics or science, in particular, tended to apply to higher achieving schools.

The research focused on job fair applicants to Chicago Public Schools during the summer of 2006. Because Chicago continues to be one of the most segregated cities in the United States, the researchers noted, stronger measures could be necessary to funnel more effective teachers into disadvantaged schools.

“One of the big takeaways from this,” said Engel, “is that we’ve been thinking about how to attract effective teachers at the district level and we should begin to consider what we can do to attract talented teachers to the most disadvantaged schools within districts. [rquote]There is a real imbalance in the number and kinds of applicants across schools, indicating that district-level strategies might not be enough.”[/rquote]

Among the researchers’ recommendations for large urban districts:

  • Consider adopting a teacher residency program, similar to medical residency training, which would encourage and support future teachers to teach in high-need areas.
  • Experiment with implementing and expanding programs aimed at recruiting, training and retaining teachers who might not typically apply to teach in disadvantaged schools.

“Teacher residency programs may be a good model for getting teachers into classrooms that are harder to staff with effective teachers. The goal in teacher residencies is to recruit people to stay,” according to Engel.

Engel collected the data for this study as a graduate student at Northwestern University as part of a series of studies on teacher hiring in Chicago. This study was funded, in part, through the William T. Grant Foundation.

Her next study in this area will focus on the implications of the decentralization of hiring decisions — that is, making school leaders the primary decision-makers in teacher hiring, as opposed to hiring decisions being made at the district level.