According to Chancellor Joel Klein, "No reform is more critical to closing the nation's shameful achievement gap than boosting the quality of teachers in high-poverty schools." Indeed, improving the quality of teachers has been a core strategy for school improvement in the New York City (NYC) reform effort. In the years prior to Children First, data suggest great variability in the quality of New York City's teachers. This evidence is consistent with a simple theory of teacher labor markets that predicts that lower quality teachers will be disproportionately found in schools with low‐achieving, poor and non-white students. As part of its Children First education reform initiative, the NYC Department of Education (DOE) embarked on a number of changes in the way it recruits, assigns, develops, retains and evaluates its workforce. This paper provides an overview of the strategies that the DOE has employed to improve the quality and effectiveness of its teachers. These include:
- Compensation: The DOE implemented increases in teacher compensation and incentives to attract teachers to high‐need schools.
- Teacher recruitment: The DOE further developed an alternative certification program (the Teaching Fellows program) and altered its recruitment efforts, its selection model, and the timing of offers for teachers.
- Working conditions and teacher retention: Several new initiatives aimed to improve school leadership, the ability of school leadership to recruit and retain effective teachers, the school learning environment, and teacher supports.
- Teacher evaluation: The DOE developed new tools for teacher evaluation, and ratcheted up expectations for tenure.
Assessing the extent to which these reforms caused the quality of teachers and teaching in New York City to improve presents challenges. Based on the reforms that occurred immediately prior to and during the Klein administration, it is clear that there has been a concerted effort to alter regulations, policies and practices to improve the overall quality of New York City teachers and especially ensure that students most in need of effective teachers are more likely to get them. Reform efforts such as improving teacher compensation, especially for entering teachers, improving and empowering school leadership, attempting to enhance both financial incentives and supports for teachers, and making human resource processes more transparent and tied to measures of performance all evidence the application of principles of labor supply.
There is evidence that efforts to recruit and select more effective teachers, primarily through the Teaching Fellows program, have been effective. Other initiatives, such as the open market transfer reforms, have not been examined in any detail to date. Still other changes, such as more rigorous evaluation of teachers, are still emerging, and thus too new to understand how they may have affected student outcomes. Although the qualifications of teachers in NYC, particularly in its lowest‐performing schools, have improved, more needs to be done to strengthen the quality of instruction.