"One of the big takeaways from this 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," says Mimi Engel. (Credit: Xavier/Flickr)

How to attract teachers to the most needy schools

Many of the best qualified teachers don’t apply to disadvantaged or isolated schools, but a new study suggests residency programs, like those used by hospitals, may help.

Teachers prefer to teach in schools and neighborhoods that are 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 University.

The paper, which appears in the American Education Research Journal, finds:

  • 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.

Focus on the school, not district

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.

There is a real imbalance in the number and kinds of applicants across schools, indicating that district-level strategies might not be enough,” says Engel. “One of the big takeaways from this 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. There is a real imbalance in the number and kinds of applicants across schools, indicating that district-level strategies might not be enough.”

The findings suggest large urban districts should consider adopting a teacher residency program, similar to medical residency training, which would encourage and support future teachers to teach in high-need areas.

Experimenting with implementing and expanding programs aimed at recruiting, training, and retaining teachers who might not typically apply to teach in disadvantaged schools may also help place highly qualified teachers 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,” explains Engel.

The William T. Grant Foundation partially funded the study.

Source: Vanderbilt University

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