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Teachers Hired Late Never Catch Up, Data Show

If you weren't at the EdWeek forum on educational data earlier this week in Chicago, you missed some interesting conversation. One of the speakers was Jon Fullerton, who works with the Strategic Data Project at Harvard's Center for Education Policy Research. With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Harvard scholars are using value-added data to produce diagnostic profiles of districts that help them think a little more strategically about how they deploy their "human capital." (That seems to be the new buzzword these days for "teachers.")

"It's more powerful if you work with districts to use the data to answer the questions that they have," says Fullerton.

The first of those profiles, which was prepared for North Carolina's Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district, rolled off the assembly line a month ago. In Fullerton's words, the analysis "traces the district's human capital chain," looking at which teachers stay, for instance, and which leave, and when the movements occur.

Some of the results echo those of earlier studies. They show, for instance, that teachers with advanced degrees don't seem to produce bigger learning gains than other teachers, that teachers with three years of experience are more effective than novices, and that poorer schools and those with greater academic challenges tend to have the most inexperienced teachers.

The profile did, however, uncover some interesting new information with regard to the timing of teacher hires in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. In the 2008-09 school year, the district hired 16 percent of its teachers after the school year began—and the number of new hires tends to spike in January. That percentage, it turns out, is better than it was in previous years when up to a quarter of teachers started after the school year began.

As you might expect, those late hires perform worse than other teachers in that first year on the new job. What was surprising, though, was that the trend seems to continue for four more years. Even in their fifth year on the job, this data shows, the late hires are still performing worse than teachers hired before the start of the school year. What's more, as with inexperienced teachers, the percentages of late hires are larger on average in economically disadvantaged schools.

I can see how it would be difficult for teachers coming to the classroom in the middle of the school year to get students back on track. What I don't understand is why that would be the case over the next four years. Do these teachers miss out on some important orientation over the summer? Or were they desperate hires made by a principal in a pinch?

Fullerton didn't have an answer to those questions but he said the statistical trend is reason enough for the district to take a hard look at "how do you fix that?"


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