Hiring, developing, and retaining top-quality teachers

I take a few things as givens right now:

  1. The factor that dwarfs all others in impacting the achievement level of our students is teacher quality. Which means that in order to return to the top level school system we once were, we must hire, develop, and retain top-quality teachers.
  2. Although class size has only been shown to be a meaningful factor in educational outcomes for the first few grade levels, Newton is not yet ready to grow class sizes across the board.
  3. The rate of teacher compensation growth in NPS is too high, and this is why the CAG has called the economics of our school system “unsustainable.”
  4. New revenue from overrides, new growth (development), closing tax loopholes for telecommunications companies, etc. is only a stopgap – cutting the growth rate of compensation is the only way we will get there, until our national health system costs are contained.

We are therefore left with this series of objectives – maintain the number of teachers we presently have, slow the growth rate of teacher compensation, and identify and implement all of the non-monetary features of a teacher’s work experience that will allow us to hire, develop, and retain top quality teachers as a means of taking pressure off of our budget.  

A 2007 McKinsey and Company study found, in an analysis of school systems across the country and the world, that solid starting salaries are a key to hiring top teachers as an indirect means of acknowledging the import of the teaching profession and competing with other occupations available to new graduates. But they found that once teachers are in place, the rate of compensation increase is of secondary importance to factors such as:

  • Functioning in a stimulating work environment;
  • Receiving the support and guidance from strong supervisors including principals;
  • Having opportunities to collaborate with their colleagues;
  • Being given the opportunity and encouragement to innovate;
  • Having access to high quality professional development;
  • Career path options including “master teacher” roles.

It is incumbent upon us to perform broad, probing surveys of Newton teachers on a regular basis to try to tease out the non-monetary factors of working life that matter to them, that will help them grow, that will make them better teachers, and that will keep them happy working in NPS. It is incumbent upon us to be creative and clever, about how to provide for our teachers the features listed above at least cost.

The most responsible and considerate thing we can do is clearly admit these objectives to ourselves and communicate them to our teachers and the NTA. This is a pro-community and pro-teacher thing to do; it is the only decent, responsible, thing to do. If we are not clear about what our objectives are, we will certainly never achieve them.