Districts That Face Toughest Challenges Often Hire Least Experienced Teachers
November 2, 2006
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer
Schools in Connecticut's poorest cities and towns face some of education's toughest challenges but often hire the state's least experienced teachers, a new study says.
Many of those school districts get off to a late start in filling teaching vacancies each year, and, as a result, must choose from a thinner, less qualified applicant pool, according to a study by the nonprofit Connecticut Center for School Change.
The difference in qualifications between teachers in wealthy and poor districts has grown between 2001 and 2005, the study found.
"This study has clearly shown that high-poverty districts do not have equal access to qualified teachers," researchers said in a study presented to the State Board of Education Wednesday.
The yearlong study is designed to help local officials recruit, hire and keep good teachers in what often amounts to a fierce competition among school districts, especially in teacher-short subjects such as math, foreign languages and special education.
That competition is expected to intensify as growing numbers of baby-boom teachers approach retirement age. Schools also are under pressure to hire and keep highly qualified teachers under the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the centerpiece of President Bush's educational agenda.
Wednesday's study was based on a review of state teacher hiring data and interviews and surveys in 11 representative school districts. The study does not reveal the names of the districts. Among the findings:
The state's wealthiest school districts were more likely than poorer districts to hire teachers with master's degrees and at least one year of experience.
Schools in high-poverty school districts generally had more difficulty filling jobs and lost more teachers to transfers than they gained.
The heavy volume of paperwork in recruiting teachers, especially in large school districts, often slowed down the hiring process.
Some schools had poor support and mentoring systems for new teachers. About one-third of newly hired teachers in the 11 districts in the survey said they intended to leave their current school or district.
A crucial finding was that poorer school districts tended to hire later in the year, mostly during the summer, often waiting until budgets are approved before making job offers.
"The longer you wait, the less likely you'll have the best teachers in your pool of applicants," said researcher Robert Reichardt, who helped compile Wednesday's report. Reichardt, a consultant with R-Squared Research, a Denver-based firm, called teachers "the single most important factor in student achievement."
Some school systems already have taken steps to get an edge in hiring. In New Britain, for example, the district began doing a more thorough analysis of predicted vacancies and sought permission to begin hiring even before the district's budget was finalized.
Instead of hiring in July and August, the district now begins hiring early in May, said Robert A. Stacy, director of human resources.
"When you're recruiting in May, there's a larger pool of shortage area candidates, minority candidates and candidates with experience looking for opportunities," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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