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Matching Teachers to Schools: Lessons from Charters

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A new report examines the importance of matching teachers to the most appropriate organizations and working environments for them—and argues that charter school operators can offer traditional public schools some lessons in that area.

Published by the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, the report says policymakers and educators tend to focus in isolation on the importance of identifying individuals who have talent to work in the classroom and on convincing those people to work in the profession. But that mindset, the authors say, ignores a critical factor in whether those teachers succeed: whether educators are placed in schools where they're likely to succeed.

"When reform-minded education leaders, policymakers, and advocates talk about these new talent-focused initiatives, they often talk about teacher effectiveness as if it is an attribute of individual teachers," the authors contend. "They tend to frame teachers as simply being more effective or less effective, and call on districts to reward and retain the best and develop or dimisss the worst."

But teacher performance also hinges on "matching the right people to the right organizations and providing the right working environments," the authors say. "Effective teaching, in other words, is not just a product of teachers, but also of their relationship to the places they work."

The report is based on data collected from 43 charter management organizations in a national study conducted by the center and Mathematica Policy Research. The study was conducted in confidentiality and so the center said it won't identify most of the CMOs that took part. But a few of them have been named as part of previous research conducted through the project. They include: Aspire Public Schools, Inner City Education Foundation, KIPP DC, Uncommon Schools, and YES Prep Public Schools. All the CMOs studied are nonprofit, brick-and-mortar schools, serving a general student body.

Strategies used by the CMOs to make sure that teachers are good fits for organizations and work environments include:

• Targeting trusted teacher-preparation programs and other sources that produce candidates with the attitude and skills they want. Some CMOs build formal relationships with teacher-preparation programs and other sources of teacher talent. Those sources include both both traditional education programs and organizations like Teach for America and the New Teacher Project.

Many of the CMOs studied follow hiring practices that are less rushed than those used in traditional public schools, the authors say. What did they look for in candidates for teacher jobs? A survey of CMO school principals offers insights. (See figure below.)

• Creating common expectations on the job, once teachers join a school. CMOs tend to spend a lot of time "socializing staff around the organization's mission," by encouraging teachers to watch each others' work and provide feedback, among other strategies. This feedback, combined with regular evaluations of teachers, provides new hires and other educators with clear information about their schools' specific goals and strategies.

• Offering teachers opportunities for advancement, particularly the ability to become teachers and coaches. Eighty-six percent of CMOs surveyed said they used the possibility of promotion to mentors or department heads as an incentive to retain educators. In addition to providing opportunities for educators, CMO leaders believe they help support the goals of their organizations. The goal of the CMOs, the authors say, is often to "align career incentives to their organizations' missions." (Presumably, these operators draw job candidates who believe in their missions, and approve of the incentives.)

The authors also note that focusing on finding the right "match" between teachers and organizations or schools can bring complications. The process can become so selective, they say, that it can lead to a shortage of desirable job candidates.

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