Beaufort schools hires firm to find best teacher programs

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comJanuary 9, 2014 

  • Details of the study

    Below are several of the questions the Beaufort County School District hopes to answer through its contract with Battelle for Kids:

    • Which district teachers repeatedly have high levels of student learning?
    • Which teacher-preparation programs attended by district teachers have prepared teachers for high levels of student performance?
    • What is the best observation process to capture teacher behaviors that are proven to increase student achievement?

    Source: Beaufort County School District

How does a school district find the best teachers?

That's a question the Beaufort County School District doesn't feel it can answer on its own.

To help it find the most effective teachers -- and the programs and universities those teachers come from -- Beaufort schools recently brought on a nonprofit group to study district teachers.

Although the district always has emphasized quality teaching, bringing in an outside group to lift the bar is new, and raises some questions: Why does the district need an outside firm to do the work? What is to be done about teachers and programs that are demonstrated to be ineffective? What does this say about the district's current recruiting process?

"We know we hire quality candidates, but we want to know where the best teachers and the best candidates are," superintendent Jeffrey Moss said.

"Our number-one asset is the teacher because a quality teacher makes the difference in the lives of the students," he added, "so our number-one goal is to hire quality teachers and administrators."

Working with Battelle for Kids will give the district objective data to guide them, Moss said. The Ohio-based group of education, technology and business professionals works to improve education across the country, according to its website.

Battelle spokesman Tim Kelso declined to comment because his group's contract with the district has not been completed.

That meant details of the study, such as how they will pick the teachers to evaluate and measure their effectiveness, were not immediately available. The fees for Battelle's work also could not be released until the contract is signed, district spokesman Jim Foster said. The agreement should be completed in the next few days, he added.

But district chief administrative and human resources officer Alice Walton said it will be money well spent. The results from the study -- which should be completed this summer -- will help the district identify strong teacher-preparation programs and tailor its recruiting efforts, she said.

The district currently hires about 75 to 100 rookie teachers each year, or roughly 50 percent of its new hires, according to Walton. The universities from which most of the district's teachers come include the University of South Carolina, University of South Carolina Beaufort, Clemson University, Winthrop University, the University of Georgia and Ashland University in Ohio.

Battelle's work also will help the district craft the best observation and evaluation techniques to enable administrators to evaluate how teachers are doing in the classroom.

Administrators in the district already evaluate teachers, she said. But Battelle, which has worked with school districts around the nation, is expected to suggest measures that will make the process more meaningful.

"This is a double-check to make sure that what we are doing is the best that can be done to focus in on getting the best teachers and improving teaching effectiveness," Walton said.

An education policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute said it's not uncommon for districts to hire outside consultant firms for this kind of work.

"It makes sense that they might want to tap into outside perspectives," said Daniel Lautzenheiser, program manager in education policy studies. "That said, the best districts zero in on exactly what they want the consultant to do so they get the most bang for the buck."

He said there is not one "best way" to identify quality teachers and that it differs based on what the district is looking for. That's why Battelle will analyze teachers currently working in the district to evaluate which ones are the most effective, Moss said.

On the flip side, the study also will identify teachers that are not as effective and the preparation programs that are not as strong.

"We are not going to say they produce poor teachers, but they are producing teachers we wouldn't necessarily want in our district," Moss said.

Teachers who are identified as struggling will go through the district's current evaluation system and get targeted support to address any deficiencies, he said.

School board member Jim Beckert, who heads the Human Resources Committee, said he thinks the study will give the district fresh perspective on recruiting and interviewing.

The district needs to do a better job finding exceptional teachers, he said.

"If it were that simple (to find the best), then what school district in the state wouldn't have that light bulb go on and say 'Hey, this is where we need to go,' " Beckert said. "But it's never really that simple, so this should help us."

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