Right now, we are in the middle of the NBA off-season. The NBA off-season is always entertaining because some players are free agents and are deciding what teams they are going to play for next. Of course, teams typically want the really good players, so they try and attract them with large contracts and salaries.
Right now, we are in the off-season for teaching. Unlike NBA players, teachers are technically free-agents every year. They might be verbally committed to their previous school, but they are free to look around and listen. Like NBA teams, schools and districts are trying to fill out their rosters. This sometimes means picking teachers from other schools. We have been conditioned in education to frown on this practice; but in reality, this is how good organizations function. There is nothing wrong with going after the best talent.
Pretend for a second that you are a principal. Perhaps you actually are. You have openings that need to be filled in math, social studies, and reading. One of your current teachers has a friend who works at the school down the street and that teacher teaches math. She says they may be interested in working at your school. You know this teacher has had good test scores year over year (Yes, I know that is not the only important measurement). Are you not supposed to reach out? Is it good leadership to purposely pass up an opportunity to put a strong math teacher in your open slot? Obviously not.
The downside is that if you make this teacher an offer and the teacher accepts, the school the teacher left now has the problem you fixed for your school. This aspect of the market is the part people hate. Some people say that poaching teachers from other schools creates an environment of scarcity and disproportionally impacts under-resourced schools.
Yes … and no.
Schools poaching teachers is a symptom of teacher scarcity, not the cause of it. Teachers are simply rare and good ones even rarer. Yes, poor underfunded schools are at a disadvantage when it comes to these games. This is why I have always argued that teachers in difficult environments should get paid more money to level the playing field … an idea some districts have used in recent years. However, even if no such financial compensation mechanism exists, it is still not ethically right to keep talented teachers from opportunities under the guise of equity. This also ignores the fact that in many cities teachers are leaving one Title I school for another which indicates that it is not all about the money.
At the end of the day, every principal has an incentive to keep their school stocked with high achieving teachers. It is unreasonable to expect they won’t make every effort to attract and retain talent. They have a responsibility to their students to do so. Reasonable minds can disagree on how much tact they should ethically use when pursuing teachers from other schools but ultimately schools, like any other entity in our economy, are in competition for talent.