Education’s HR Tech

Can technology help tackle our looming teacher shortage?

GUEST COLUMN | by Sarah Silverman

credit-teachiowa-govApplications for teaching certificates are on the decline, as are enrollments in traditional teacher preparation programs. Conventional wisdom among state leaders says that teacher shortages present an impending catastrophe. States are scrambling to increase emergency certifications or, in some cases, lower the barrier of entry into the profession entirely.

The data suggest that this looming crisis reflects more than just the latest ebb in a multi-year cycle – it is a sign of deeper structural shifts that could affect education’s most vital resource for years to come. As the challenge evolves, we may have to think differently about the systems that enable schools and districts to identify and develop human capital. These shifts also mean that education’s own version of HR tech will have to play a bigger role. Here’s why:

We Need Better Data

Teacher shortages are not uniform across the K-12 spectrum—or even regionally. And state and local leaders just don’t have the data to understand what type of shortages exist. One recent study in Oklahoma projected an overall shortage of teachers, but masked the surplus among elementary educators and even more differences in geographic supply. The state nonetheless issued 1,063 emergency certificates in SY15-16.

As the human capital demands of districts and schools evolve and skills gaps loom large, outmoded forms of data collection and back-of-the-envelope approaches to talent management need to change.

As more and more school and district leaders implement digital recruiting and management systems that mirror those used by the Fortune 1000, they are able to pinpoint needs, track trends over time, and manage hiring processes in ways that efficiently move educators from recruitment through screening into a meaningful talent management cycle.

Efforts to gather better data can pay off. Minnesota recently collaborated with the state support center Regional Education Laboratory Midwest to refine its required Teacher Supply and Demand report by asking more actionable research questions. The report led to better insights into key certification needs in the state and resulted in the legislature modifying certificate reciprocity policies so teachers who received credentials in other states could more easily begin teaching in Minnesota.  

Application Management Matters

Poor application management processes can destroy an otherwise healthy candidate pool and result in a weaker teaching force. Today, district hiring processes are often circuitous or lack transparency as a result of contract-based hiring rules.

Done well, Application Management technology will help districts to more effectively and efficiently fill their most critical vacancies. States are also getting into the mix through initiatives like TeachIowa, which plays a matchmaking role between candidates and opportunities and is helping to professionalize the experience of identifying and onboarding teacher talent.

Removing unnecessary efficiency barriers isn’t always difficult, but it does require careful planning and commitment. It also requires effective technology tools that keep educators engaged throughout the process and help hiring leaders understand their options in order to maximize fit. Reliable application tracking systems, connected with the other components of human capital management, can both make this change feasible and raise the bar for schools and districts.

Toward Integrated Talent Management

For the first time, technology is enabling school districts to integrate historically disparate systems (HR, recruitment, professional development) into comprehensive talent management platforms that can help school and district leaders understand and manage the lifecycle of a teacher – from recruiting and application to evaluation and delivery of personalized, high-quality development opportunities.

Teacher shortages, coupled with new federal guidelines for professional development, are heightening demand for technologies that integrate applicant tracking systems with evaluation and development tools to help district leaders understand teacher supply and better align it with demand. Aggregated at the state level, talent management platforms generate data to help policymakers understand what’s working – and remove the guesswork at the school or district level to make development expenditures more effective.

Integrated systems are also providing unprecedented insight into professional growth over time, as well as critical information on engagement and school climate that may be used to predict average length of tenure and likelihood that educators will remain in a school or choose to leave.

As the human capital demands of districts and schools evolve and skills gaps loom large, outmoded forms of data collection and back-of-the-envelope approaches to talent management need to change. Technology can play a critical role in supporting the new needs of teachers, leaders, districts, and states. By partnering with state and district leaders, entrepreneurs can help to answer critical questions, close efficiency gaps, and even support best practice in talent management. The opportunities to innovate are endless, but the need to solve today’s operational challenges is urgent.

Sarah Silverman is Vice President of Whiteboard Advisors, a DC-based education policy consulting firm.

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