November 27 — 12:00 am, 2003

In other large districts, schools have more hiring authority

Many school systems in large cities across the United States have a teacher hiring process that gives more control to principals and allows more interaction between schools and candidates than the process used in Philadelphia.

"Few districts across the country have a hiring and school assignment process as centralized as Philadelphia," wrote the authors of Once and For All, a report issued in September by the nonprofit group Research for Action on teacher hiring in Philadelphia.

In most Philadelphia public schools, all decisions in the hiring process are made at the District level rather than the school level. Members of Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission have called for "site selection"– a larger role for schools in teacher hiring.

Site selection is in place at 31 schools in Philadelphia where it was approved by a vote of the faculty (see Site Selection of teachers). Proponents point to its increasing use in other large districts.

But at the vast majority of schools in Philadelphia, new teachers who are interested in a position apply directly to the central Office of Human Resources. Once their applications are reviewed and approved, they are invited to come to the School District at an appointed time to select a post from the open positions. At this meeting, they must make their final decisions.

Principals can try to influence who comes to their school but ultimately have no power to select teachers and often have their first contact with the newly hired teachers at orientation.

In upcoming teacher contract negotiations, the Philadelphia School District and Philadelphia Federation of Teachers will be discussing the possible impact of a school-based hiring process and whether it would help with recruiting and retaining quality teachers in the District.

Teacher seniority now plays a major role in how vacancies are filled in Philadelphia, with more senior teachers having first dibs on openings. Such seniority privileges in voluntary teacher transfers are still common in large districts, though districts such as Seattle, Milwaukee, and St. Paul have given schools decision-making power over teacher transfers.

In the hiring of new teachers, many urban districts adopt a more decentralized approach than Philadelphia’s.

Chicago, Seattle: schools do hiring

At the other end of the spectrum from Philadelphia, the Chicago and Seattle school districts have hiring processes that are entirely school-based. These districts give responsibility for the entire selection process to the principals and site leadership teams at the schools. Applications are turned in directly to the schools and all decisions are made at this level.

Other large districts have the human resources department serve as the first contact in the process, but give schools the power to make hiring decisions with new teachers. This approach is used in school districts in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York City, Denver, Baltimore, Dallas, and Detroit.

With this arrangement, applicant’s qualifications are first checked by human resources, and the names of qualified candidates are made available to school principals. The principal, in some cases with the assistance of a site-based selection team, is responsible for the rest of the application process.

Pros and cons

A survey conducted by Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth of officials from nine urban districts involved with site-based hiring has identified a few common concerns, as well as some perceived benefits. One complaint is that the hiring process can be very slow if human resources departments do not first screen the applications.

Officials from some large districts noted that not all schools receive an adequate number of interested applicants through a site-based process. Placing the responsibility for a very time-consuming task on principals who are often already overwhelmed with other critical responsibilities is another concern. Some districts help by getting additional applicants for hard-to-staff schools.

On the other hand, the ability for teachers and principals to get to know each other in advance is a prime reason that those who work in districts with a site-based selection process find it an effective way to hire new teachers.

Candidates can meet their potential colleagues and get a sense of the culture of the schools they are interested in; this helps make sure that there is a good match between teacher and school before the teacher is assigned, so that the teacher is more likely to stay.

In a 2002 study exploring how teachers experience the hiring practice in school districts across New Jersey, Edward Liu of Harvard University found that some schools with site-based hiring were not taking full advantage of its potential. He found that teacher applicants were not given the opportunity to interact with specific schools enough to develop a clear picture of what to expect.

In his report, Liu concluded,"Just because many schools may have significant control over hiring does not mean that they are using or know how to use hiring practices that generate quality information for both hires and candidates. In other words, decentralized hiring does not automatically translate into more interactive hiring."

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