Study Shows Teacher Hiring Practices Need Work

Published October 1, 2003

Is it low pay that causes the teaching profession to have so few males and minorities, as the nation’s largest teacher union contends? A convincing counter-argument can be made that it is the profession’s burdensome entry barriers–i.e., the certification process–that turns these groups away from teaching.

The irony is that most school administrators take little account of a candidate’s pedagogical skills or other components of certification when they actually hire teachers, according to a new study.

In late August the National Education Association (NEA) released the latest version of “The Status of the American Public School Teacher,” which reports only 20 percent of teachers are men, a 40-year low, and only 10 percent are minority. Updated every five years, the report draws its latest findings from the 2000-2001 school year.

The NEA report contends low teacher pay is largely to blame for the small number of male and minority teachers. As an NEA spokesman explained in a widely printed AP story about the study, “So what makes teaching less attractive to men and minorities? A mix of factors, but mainly the fact that it’s easier to earn more money with less stress in other fields.”

The NEA’s arguments about low pay appear to have had a positive impact on teacher salaries over the years. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in constant 2001-2002 dollars, the average teacher salary in 1959 was $30,292; by 2001 the average teacher salary was $44,604.

Barriers to Entry

However, teacher pay may not be the only credible reason for the small numbers of men and minorities entering the profession. The NEA report pays scant attention to the possibility that potential new teachers are dissuaded by the complex teacher certification process and lack of administrative support once a teacher becomes certified.

Many teaching programs have burdensome certification requirements disproportionate to the benefits received by those who are ultimately certified. Preparing for teacher certification usually includes many courses in child development, the foundations of education, and classroom diversity, with little attention paid to content knowledge.

Education courses have a reputation for including some of the least interesting and least rigorous content available to college students. Data from the 2003 SATs reveals education majors rank at the bottom in SAT scores with a 965. Potential teachers may object to the years of pedagogy classes they must take before being allowed to enter a classroom.

While prospective teachers may spend a significant amount of time studying pedagogy, principals seem to pay scant attention to a teacher’s skills before inviting him or her into the classroom. A new study shows the teacher certification process has little effect on the actual hiring practices of school administrators.

An April 2003 study by Edward Liu of the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project on the Next Generation of Teachers reports on district hiring practices. The study examines the results of a survey of 486 teachers asked to comment on the hiring process they went through in four states: California, Florida, Massachusetts, and Michigan.

Significant study findings include:

  • While most new teachers were interviewed by school administrators one or two times, one in five teachers in Florida were never interviewed at all.
  • Only 7.5 percent of new teachers in the four-state pool taught a sample lesson as part of the hiring process, suggesting few hiring decisions are based on an authentic demonstration of a candidate’s teaching ability.
  • Only about one in four new teachers were asked to submit standardized test scores or writing samples.
  • Many new teachers were hired quite late. The study found 33 percent of new teachers were hired after the school year had already started, and 62 percent were hired within 30 days of when they were to start teaching.
  • Only 50 percent of new teachers interviewed with any of their future teacher colleagues as part of the hiring process.
  • More than 56 percent reported no extra assistance was available to them as new teachers.
  • 43 percent of new teachers reported going through their entire first year of teaching without being observed by a mentor or more experienced teacher.

“The study reveals that many schools are not organized to hire and support new teachers in ways that help them enter the profession smoothly and attain early success,” Liu concludes.

Lisa Snell is director of the education program for the Reason Foundation in Los Angeles. Her email address is [email protected].

For more information …

The April 2003 study by Edward Liu, “New Teachers’ Experiences of Hiring: Preliminary Findings from a 4-state Study,” is available online at