Matching best-fit teachers to school districts can be challenging, Michael Barnes said.
Serving nearly three years as a district talent manager at Austin Achieve public schools, in Austin, Texas, Barnes felt a lot of pressure to make the right decisions for students.
“Oftentimes I would stay up until 2 a.m., wishing I had better teachers to give to my school district to help students learn more,” Barnes said. “People in these positions, like me, hate making imperfect decisions that will hurt student achievement outcomes.”
Recognizing educators as one of society’s biggest change makers, Barnes committed himself to solving this problem by co-founding TeacherTalent — an artificial intelligence and big data platform that predicts teacher effectiveness and seeks to connect the best teachers with client schools.
Launched in 2017, the firm’s algorithm recognizes every teacher in the United States and pulls in data from more than 10,000 sources, Barnes said.
“We look at experience, test scores and a bunch of factors,” Barnes said. “We look at, when they worked at a campus with a similar demographic of students, did those students succeed? We create a track record for each teacher through the data, which shows whether or not they are ready for the environment of a school district.
TeacherTalent — which earned a spot on the inaugural Techstars KC cohort last month — is focused on encouraging school districts to sign on to the platform and is currently working with eight districts in California, Tennessee, Texas and Missouri — including one in Kansas City Citizens of the World Charter Schools.
“In the short term, we want to give clients the platform for free and they pay per placement,” Barnes said. “We sign an agreement for data sharing, and then it is really easy and low risk for them. No obligation to hire. We give them the candidates that our platform thinks is the best fit.”
Although many assume educators are dissatisfied with the profession because of low pay, environment plays a bigger factor, Barnes said. That’s why hiring decisions are so important, he added.
“There’s a huge disconnect between what people think and what’s really going on,” Barnes said. “Teachers understand that they’re not signing on for automatic six-figure salary. What they’re actually dissatisfied with is the conditions of their working environment. They don’t feel like they have the resources, support, coaching, mentoring and leadership needed to do their job to the best of their ability.”
It can lead to “teacher burnout,” he said, and one way to fix such issues is to encourage positive relationships between faculty and administrators.
“What we’re trying to do is almost like rehabilitate the relationship between the schools and the teachers,” Barnes said. “If you are in the right environment to begin with, it is an easier fit both ways and people will want to invest in that relationship with resources.”
Although the dual-sided marketplace is currently focused on the school districts, Barnes said, the firm’s ultimate goal is the happiness of educators. In the future, TeacherTalent hopes to release products focused on career coaching and placement for teachers.
“When we think about teachers, we want to think about their individual journey,” he said. “We don’t want our focus on school districts to interfere with how much respect and care we have for teachers. We want to be a broker between the two.”
Already a team of four, TeacherTalent is now hiring.
Barnes said that his goal for the startup’s participation with Techstars is to raise a seed round and to continue to secure more Kansas City partnerships.
“We love Kansas City and we love Techstars,” Barnes said. “We are deeply grateful for all of the relationships that we have made. What we can do today for schools is already 10 times better than what we could do four weeks ago.”