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Brookings Papers on Education Policy 2004 (2004) 265-285

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Panel Discussion on Obstacles to Entering the Teaching Profession

The first day's session of the 2003 Brookings conference on education concluded with a roundtable discussion of the obstacles to recruiting new teachers into the profession, especially for urban schools. The discussion, moderated by Diane Ravitch, began with informal presentations by two people who have been deeply involved in addressing this problem: Michelle Rhee of the New Teacher Project and Vicki Bernstein of the New York City Teaching Fellows Program, which is part of the New York City Department of Education. The commentators were Lewis C. Solmon of the Milken Family Foundation (and former dean of the School of Education at the University of California at Los Angeles) and C. Emily Feistritzer, who directs the National Center for Education Information and has studied alternative certification programs for many years. The other participants in the discussion were Richard Rothstein, Caroline M. Hoxby, Eric A. Hanushek, John T. Wenders, Adam F. Scrupski, Nesa Chapelle, Susan Sclafani, Deborah Meier, Leslie Fritz, Alvin Sanoff, Robert Spillane, Michael Podgursky, and Frederick M. Hess.

Michelle Rhee began by describing the New Teacher Project, a national nonprofit organization that consults with school districts, state departments of education, and colleges and universities across the country to help them more effectively recruit, select, train, place, support, and certify new teachers. The project works primarily on two different types of contracts: those in which school districts set up programs to recruit young and midcareer professionals and folks with strong content knowledge for hard-to-staff [End Page 265] urban schools; and those seeking to increase the number and quality of certified teachers.

According to Rhee, the nature of the teacher shortage and recruitment issues over the past few years is usually mischaracterized as a lack of interest on the part of potential teachers. One often hears the complaint that not enough people, whether certified or noncertified, want to teach in hard-to-staff urban schools. Furthermore, finding highly qualified people is difficult. Yet Rhee found through her experience at the New Teacher Project working with school districts across the country that aggressive and targeted recruitment efforts will generate a large supply of people who are willing to teach in urban schools. This pertains to both nontraditionally and traditionally certified candidates. Across the country in the project's alternate route programs, there are about nine applicants for every vacancy. Even with certified cohorts, between five and six applications are submitted for every vacancy in the program.

Rhee said that those recruited by the project are extremely well qualified. The alternate route people have on average a grade point average (GPA) of about 3.2, approximately 40 percent are people of color, and about 35 percent hold advanced degrees. The project has been showing school districts how to develop a larger applicant pool. For example, the New York City Teaching Fellows received 19,930 applications in 2003 and would place about 2,800 new fellows in classrooms. The Los Angeles Unified School District by May 2003 had received about 6,000 applications for about 700 positions.

The project has encountered barriers to entry for new recruits to teaching, both for certified and for alternate route programs. While many of these stem from internal inefficiencies in the human resources division, external policy issues also contribute to the problems of timely teacher hiring. For example, according to a survey the project conducted of six large urban sites, more than 35 percent of the applicants for teaching jobs withdrew their application before the beginning of school. Seventy percent of this group cited poor customer service, inefficient processes, and delayed time lines as the reason for their withdrawal.

Rhee reported that at one site over half of the candidates had been waiting more than a month for some kind of action on their application by the school district. Two-thirds of those who wanted principal interviews waited for two and a half months or more. Presumably these were quality applicants, she said, because the education field loses the...


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pp. 265-285
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Open Access
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Archived 2007
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