A New Recipe for Teacher Recruitment

Two years ago, I overheard acclaimed Washington, D.C. high school math teacher Shira Fishman admit to the inaugural Fishman Prize winners that she earned a six-figure salary—and jaws hit the floor. She pulled up the DC Public Schools website on her laptop, and four of the country's best teachers gathered around in amazement, poring over the district’s performance-based salary schedule.

They simply couldn't believe that any public school teacher could earn $100,000 a year. At DCPS, top performers can earn six figures by their fourth year in the classroom.

The moment summed up the district’s teacher recruitment challenge at the time. DCPS was already well known for its innovative policies and deep commitment to effective teaching among the wonk and research crowds. It had recently rolled out and refined an evaluation system that reliably identifies its best teachers and helps all teachers improve. And it was not only focusing on developing teachers as professionals, it was also paying professional salaries. Meanwhile, DCPS students were posting strong test score gains.

But that work and reputation wasn’t yet well known among teachers and principals outside the district. DCPS needed to find a way to distinguish itself with the high-performing educators it wanted to hire.

As the market for strong teachers grows increasingly competitive, basic job postings and flyers with bright red apples are no longer enough. We have a longstanding relationship with the district—we’ve run the DC Teaching Fellows program since 2001—so when it was looking for advice, we offered to collaborate on a new recruitment campaign.

Like any employer, DCPS isn't perfect. But it is a good fit for teachers who thrive on big challenges, and DCPS needed more of them, particularly in shortage subjects like math, science and special education. With that in mind, we built a recruitment campaign, using the dedicated website to showcase the district’s ambitious goals.

The campaign had four steps, a roadmap that any district or school network can follow:

  1. Set clear goals: We started by helping DCPS define who it wanted to attract (down to specific experience ranges for teachers from specific regions and cities), what it wanted to achieve through the campaign, and how it would measure success. Those applicant targets and goals shaped every part of the district’s messaging and outreach strategy.
  1. Clarify the message: What’s unique about teaching at DCPS? Teachers are part of something big: overturning the low expectations for urban schools and students and proving what’s possible in public education. So the campaign challenges teachers to “Defy Expectations”—a bold call to action that amplifies the district’s bold vision.
  1. Reach and inspire: Armed with clear messaging, DCPS sought out experienced teachers with a hunger for constant improvement through targeted job postings and ads that reflected the Defy Expectations theme. The website served as a one-stop-shop for information on working in DCPS, painting a vivid picture of the district and clearly outlining the steps to apply. As a result, the number of completed applications DCPS received grew by 70 percent in 2013 compared to 2012. Most importantly, the district also saw stronger candidates. The percentage of candidates who started applications and met initial eligibility requirements shot up to 90 percent in 2013, compared to 68 percent the year before.
  1. Grow the applicant network: To encourage word of mouth, DCPS engaged with applicants through email and social media, particularly Facebook and LinkedIn. With steady investment in quality content, DCPS saw engagement surge on social media, driving thousands of new applicants back to the site, growing its applicant network, and building ongoing buzz about the district. As a result, DCPS was able to fill more vacancies earlier in the summer. For the current 2013-14 school year, DCPS filled 48 percent of teacher vacancies by July 1; the previous year, that figure was 26 percent.

While the signs are positive, the million-dollar question is how this year’s crop of teachers will perform in the classroom, something DCPS is studying closely. In the meantime, DCPS is a great example of how a high-need public school district can set itself apart as an inspiring place to work.

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, stands in front of her students while introducing them to the captivating world of science

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, introduces her students to the captivating world of science.

About TNTP

TNTP is the nation’s leading research, policy, and consulting organization dedicated to transforming America’s public education system, so that every generation thrives.

Today, we work side-by-side with educators, system leaders, and communities across 39 states and over 6,000 districts nationwide to reach ambitious goals for student success.

Yet the possibilities we imagine push far beyond the walls of school and the education field alone. We are catalyzing a movement across sectors to create multiple pathways for young people to achieve academic, economic, and social mobility.

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