Boston Benefits from Mutual Consent Hiring

It probably seems straightforward that hiring teachers at the end of the summer, or after the school year has already started, isn’t very good for students—or for teachers. Surely, teachers and principals should both have some say in who works where: Teachers should have a voice in where they work, and principals should be able to build their own teams. This isn’t just common sense, either. The benefits of early hiring and “mutual consent” hiring have been clear (and grounded in research) for a while—we’ve been writing about them for more than 10 years now.

But solving those problems isn’t easy. Often, districts must juggle a combination of strict staffing policies, negotiated union regulations, and labyrinthine hiring processes.

This year, we assisted Boston Public Schools (BPS) with their major effort to hire teachers earlier and give teachers and school leaders more choice in the process. The goal was simple: hire the best, most diverse candidates into Boston classrooms. Our past experience and research has shown that schools are able to hire the most sought-after candidates when they act in the earlier months. Each passing month means lower odds of a successful hire. BPS has also struggled for years to achieve the diverse teaching force it needs to reflect the communities it serves, and research shows early hiring brings in more top African-American and Latino candidates. A more proactive hiring process could help BPS solve a challenge it’s wrestled with for years. Not to mention that a strong match, both for teachers and principals, has a positive impact on teachers’ effectiveness and desire to stay in the classroom. 

The district’s efforts had a huge effect: By the end of this past June, BPS had filled 83 percent of its vacancies. Last year at that time, they’d hired just 9 percent of their new teachers. So far, the teachers hired are a better reflection of the diversity of BPS’ students, too.

What happened?

Last March, BPS added a stipend and additional duties to many job descriptions, which opened these new jobs to any internal or external candidate. Principals now had far more freedom to hire the teachers they believed were the best fit for their school. At the same time, BPS undertook efforts to identify open positions earlier in the school year, and to support tenured teachers to help them find the right positions.

This was a bold shift for BPS: As a district with a wide variety of types of schools, several of which already had greater autonomy over hiring, traditional schools in Boston that lacked such flexibility felt the strain from the standard hiring process disproportionately. Needing the most help, they were actually at the greatest disadvantage. With the change, open positions can be filled without going through the traditional staffing process—a first for many schools.

The result has been a process that looks radically different than it did just last year. Previously, BPS held off on filling vacancies with external candidates until after internal transfer periods and a district-wide bidding process. Teachers bid on positions according to seniority, and school leaders had virtually no choice in who they hired. Meanwhile, other candidates waited. Because those processes took several months to complete, roughly 85 percent of new hires in BPS occurred in July, August and September, long after some current BPS teachers without tenure had secured positions outside of BPS and the pool of external candidates had significantly dwindled.

Given such a dramatic change to hiring practices, it’s no surprise that there have been challenges. Tenured teachers whose positions were cut entered the process alongside external applicants. To address this, BPS prioritized support for tenured teachers by partnering with the Boston Teachers Union to hold hiring fairs, workshops on the new process, and offer support with skills like resume-writing and interviewing. So far, of the more than 500 tenured teachers who were initially without positions, fewer than 75 are still without permanent roles—and all of those teachers are meeting the needs of BPS’ students by working as long-term substitutes or as co-teachers, giving smaller groups of students more attention in critical areas.

For BPS—and other districts looking to undertake these kind of staffing overhauls—it’s also important to build the public case for early, mutual consent hiring, and to make sure that the benefits to students, teachers and principals are clear for everyone to see. Now that BPS is off to a strong start for the school year, it will be critical that the district ensures smarter hiring translates into stronger school-based teams that are cohesive and collaborative.

Taken together, that would be a real win for Boston’s students, and one that was made possible by district leaders deciding to get creative—and bold—with what they had. 

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.

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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.

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