Metro

BPS’s early hiring brings better, more diverse teachers, report says

A two-year-old early hiring initiative has allowed Boston Public Schools to recruit better-qualified teachers while increasing racial diversity, according to a new report from a local think tank.

The policy shifts many hiring decisions from district administrators to leaders of individual schools, and gives them more latitude to focus on teacher qualifications over seniority.

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Under the initiative, the district now posts openings months earlier, giving city schools a better chance to attract top teachers, according to the Boston Municipal Research Bureau’s report, which will be released Thursday.

“Before, too large a percentage of teachers were being hired in the Boston Public School system in August, September, after decisions had already been made,” said Samuel R. Tyler, president of the research bureau, a nonpartisan group that examines public policy issues.

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Before the change, most Boston schools began posting jobs in April, and only internal candidates were considered during the first three steps of a yearly teacher assignment process, according to the report. Seniority was a major factor in the process.

Teachers outside the Boston schools could only apply in the final stages of the process, and only if 60 percent of the school’s teachers approved or the school offered an additional $1,250 stipend.

The new policy provides that same stipend for all open positions so that jobs can be posted as early as March, and allows administrators to consider internal and external applicants.

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Grace Evans, a teacher at Boston Community Leadership Academy in Hyde Park who applied for jobs in the district before and after the policy change, said the new system is far more transparent.

“It was just so much easier to know where the jobs were and to apply for them, because before that it all seemed like it was a secret process,” Evans said. “It would all happen kind of behind closed doors.”

In 2014, the new policy’s first year, 63 percent of new teachers were hired before July 1, more than seven times as many as had been hired by that point the year before, the study found.

This school year, last-minute hiring in August and September was just 25 percent, down from 65 percent in 2013.

The new flexibility comes at a price. Because state law guarantees jobs to tenured teachers, those who are passed over for permanent positions remain employed by the district at their previous salaries as co-teachers, substitutes, or academic coaches.

Those teachers’ salaries and benefits, combined with hiring stipends for outside applicants, totalled $10.5 million in the first year. The program is budgeted for $13.3 million for this school year.

The report recommends that the district continue to fund the program fully, despite a looming budget shortfall, and that the state change teacher-tenure law to make it easier to fire poor instructors.

Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, said tenured teachers who wind up without positions under the new policy are unfairly stigmatized and can find it difficult to secure new positions, even though about three-quarters had been rated “proficient” or “exemplary” in evaluations.

“Most of them are in this situation not because they were moved out of a school, but because they happened to be in a school that faced closure or turnaround status,” he said.

Late last month, an arbitrator ruled for the school department in a dispute with the union over the ability of tenured teachers who lost their jobs to have the first shot at certain positions.

The program has also helped create a more racially diverse pool of applicants, the study found. Of teachers hired from March to May of last year, 24 percent were black and 15 percent were Hispanic, compared to 18 percent black and 9 percent Hispanic among teachers hired last August.

Currently, Boston’s schools are failing to comply with US District Judge Arthur Garrity’s 1985 court order mandating that the teaching ranks be 25 percent black and 10 percent “other minority.”

In the current school year, 21 percent of teachers and guidance counselors are black, 10 percent are Hispanic, and 6 percent are Asian, according to school department figures. Students, by contrast, are 35 percent black, 41 percent Hispanic, and 9 percent Asian.

Earlier hiring also allows schools to bring in more effective teachers, according to the study. Teachers hired in 2014 before June were nearly twice as likely to be rated “exemplary” in evaluations than those hired later that year. Teachers hired after June were three times more likely to be rated “unsatisfactory” or “needs improvement.”

Emily Kalejs Qazilbash, assistant superintendent of human capital for Boston Public Schools, said the school department began posting openings for the fall this week.

“Promising teachers who are on the job market, teachers who are really go-getters, really excited to be teachers, overachievers, they’re out there right now looking for jobs,” she said. “They get snapped up before the summer.”

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.
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