The Key to Improving School Performance (and Business, Too!)

Election Day, 2012. Candidates for office at all levels of government have points of view on multitudes of issues and how they will address each issue if elected. Improving our schools is one such issue. In recent years, research has increasingly pointed to teacher quality as a primary driver of top quality schools. A Harvard University study revealed that, on average, having a “top 5% value added teacher for one year raises a child’s cumulative lifetime income by $50,000.” A 2010 McKinsey study reported that top performing nations “recruit 100% of their new teachers from the top third (of college graduates), whereas in the U.S. it is 23% overall and 14% in high poverty schools.”

So we know that teacher quality matters and we know that recruiting top college graduates for teacher positions is important. With this information, we should have a clear path to improving our schools. Yet getting the right teachers in the classroom seems more often the exception than the rule. Enter Scott E. Barron, Chief Reinvention Officer & Managing Partner, School Growth, LLC. ( An experienced educator and administrator, Scott has a real passion for reinventing schools, both private and public. Emphatic on the importance of a talent strategy to a successful school, Scott shared several elements of a talent strategy for a school turnaround or improvement:

Broaden your network for recruiting top candidates
School administrators tend to hire who they have worked with or know through close connections. Scott notes that administrators tend to wait until they have openings before interviewing and typically do all of their interviewing and hiring in a three month periods. Instead, Scott advocates that school leaders significantly expand the reach of their network and make connections to top talent throughout the year.

Know what is important to assess
Scott identifies four critical areas where a teacher or staff member should be aligned with that of the school: mission, culture, strategy, and position, in that order. Many school leaders tend to focus their assessment of candidates on position alignment or on teaching experience and skills. In reality, this is the area more readily addressed by local training and development on the job. Focus on the other areas in order, states Scott, and you will be more likely assured you have a strong fit candidate for the job.

Conduct tandem interviews
The combination of infrequently conducting interviews and overestimating one’s interview and assessment skills makes it challenging for school administrators to truly identify top talent. Scott helps school leaders develop a consistent, structured process for leading interviews and is a strong proponent of tandem interviews to improve the quality of the assessment.

Do thorough reference checks
Scott shared with me some interesting qualities of great teachers:
• Great teachers are intentional about being in class they miss fewer school days.
• Great teachers have an exciting classroom room and run an orderly class – they don’t send students to the office.
• Great teachers make fewer photocopies than other teachers. They don’t rely on worksheets and templates as handouts.
Scott checks with a variety of sources, such as Admissions Directors in private schools, when vetting candidates (Admissions Directors don’t take visitors to the classrooms of unorganized teachers). Reference checks are an important component of building a complete process for selecting only the best fit talent to a school.

How to improve our schools? In the coming months we will see a number of approaches, initiatives and programs from newly elected officials. Some may have a positive impact on education; others less so. Meanwhile, Scott and his team are enthusiastically demonstrating how an effective talent strategy can make a significant difference in school performance. A lesson worth learning. Business leaders, take note.