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The Teacher Draft

Meredith // November 11th 2010 // 

What if teacher recruitment functioned like the NFL draft? The schools with the worst records could get first pick from a well-trained, competitive teaching pool.

First, let’s take a look at how and why this occurs in professional sports. Instead of trying to explain it myself, I’ll let Sports-Gift do the honors:

“The NFL draft usually works like this. The team that has the worst record the year before gets to select the first NFL draft pick. The NFL team that has the second worst record picks number two and so on all the way to the super bowl champs picking last. This keeps the NFL football teams on an even balance with each other so no NFL team could build a dynasty like the New York Yankees have done in baseball.”

Like the Yankees, we can see a trend toward this “dynasty” mentality in excellent, well-funded and greatly supported schools. They consistently draw the best teachers. In education, demand for teachers in high need schools is not met by supply. Teachers want tenable, meaningful work, not decrepit classrooms run by inept administrators. Thus, many qualified teachers go straight to the suburbs into schools where they draw support from the administration, school board, student families, and greater community. This reflects basic economic principles of labor contracting. When we think about the rights of all children to access excellent education, other motivators, like making schools in “even balance with each other,” might also deserve a voice in the market.

One of the biggest obstacles entrenched in this idea is that schools are not like the NFL in that there is a shortage of teachers. As of now, the industry is not nearly competitive enough to discard a slew of hopeful new teachers like the droves of athletes that simply don’t make it big. Another barrier is the lack of performance measures and standardization in accreditation programs. We do not know who the best teachers are, and even if we could quantify a graduate school student’s achievements, we would have no way of comparing them. No Heisman Trophy, no nationally broadcast replays of effective teaching, no rankings. Lastly, we would not want to establish any incentives to underperform or covertly partner with schools before graduation. For example, someone could intentionally do worse in a credential program in order to go later in the “draft” and thereby have a better chance of being chosen by a higher performing school.

It’s interesting to think of this kind of paradigm shift, from a purely free market model to one based on strengthening competition. If a scheme like this were ever to work, we would have to build in incentives for prospective teachers to buy into the model. Perhaps it would look different chronologically. For instance, instead of a “draft” right out of credentialing programs, teachers could be evaluated after a given amount of service. A reward for excellent teaching would be to receive an stipend to transfer to an underachieving school for at least a year. Houston Independent School District’s Apollo 20 Effective Teacher Pipeline is a pilot program testing a similar model. Other organizations like Teach For America motivate movement into urban and rural schools by bestowing an element of prestige and a vast alumnae network to participants. Even though TFA only holds corps members to 2-year commitments, many alumnae stay in these communities, teaching or serving as school leadership.

In an era where we see a distinct divide in educational opportunities for low-income children and  simultaneous emergence of creative charter districts, we may be in a place to consider more dramatic shifts.