I had the pleasure this week of hearing Jonah Rockoff talk about a paper he’s written with several colleagues, “Teacher Applicant Hiring and Teacher Performance: Evidence from DC Public Schools.” My impression is that in general school districts do a lousy job of selecting the best future teachers from the available applicant pool. Or maybe it would be more accurate to that some districts do well at this and others do a terrible job. From the researcher’s vantage, it’s been very hard to identify factors that do a good job of predicting who’s going to be a good teacher. That makes it hard to give advice to school districts.
Rockoff and colleagues were given access to hiring data on a large number of applicants to Washington, DC schools. They also were given data on how well hired applicant performed according to DC’s Impact rating system. What they found was that DC had collected data on several factors that did a pretty good job of predicting who would turn out to be a good teacher, but scores on these factors played very little role in deciding who would actually be hired.
Here are some things that do predict teacher success according to the DC data:
- Undergraduate academic performance, including
- SAT/ACT scores
- college selectivity
- Application data, including
- score on a subject-specific written essay
- interview score
- teaching audition
But perhaps the most interesting predictor is the score on what’s called the “Haberman test.” A number of years ago, Martin Haberman interviewed good teachers and then created a multiple choice test intended to pick out applicants with attitudes that matched those of the good teachers. Rockoff and coauthors find that the Haberman test really does do a good job of predicting teacher success. And oh yeah, the test is available on the web and costs all of five dollars to administer.
So it seems that schools could do a better job of picking good teachers with relatively little difficulty. Along those lines, I’ll close with the opening quote from the paper.
The best means of improving a school system is to improve its teachers. One of the most effective means of improving the teacher corps is by wise selection.
-Ervin Eugene Lewis, Superintendent of Schools, Flint, Michigan, 1925