Putting Background Checks to the Test: 4 Best Practices for Better Screening in Education

Nick Fishman

Background Checks in Education

Nearly every week another news story pops up related to background checks in schools—particularly related to the need for improvement. While background checks in the education industry are standardized by state, the question is not whether or not background checks are in place, but rather how comprehensive they are.

Although each state has its own requirements for school background checks, there’s a false sense of security that comes with them. Many states require academic institutions—from preschools to universities (both public and private)—to only conduct a statewide or fingerprint background check. Because of this, many schools are making hiring decisions based on less-than-accurate results.

What’s Wrong with a Statewide?

The problem with statewide criminal databases is that they are not the most comprehensive background screening method. There are often many holes in these records, making them an unreliable source for the most up-to-date information on job candidates. So if these records are inaccurate, that means your candidate could have a criminal record—but it won’t be found.

In addition, simply conducting a statewide background check won’t determine if a candidate lived outside of that state—and potentially has a record elsewhere. This could also mean that if an applicant is a registered sex offender in one state—but the employer doesn’t know they have lived elsewhere—this information will not be uncovered in a background check.

Why Isn’t a Fingerprint Enough?

Similar to the statewide background check, a search done through the FBI database with fingerprinting, also has a high chance of inaccuracy. Of course, there is a chance that something will be found through fingerprinting—but this method will not guarantee that a criminal record for your applicant will be found. Read More about the FBI database here.

Now that you know these commonly used background screening sources are not as accurate as you thought, you’re probably wondering—how can schools across the United States conduct more comprehensive background checks? Keep reading.

Who Should Be Screened?

While screening teachers is essential for the safety of students of all ages—it’s not only teachers and professors that should be screened. Other positions to consider include anyone who will be on campus, around children or students throughout the school day:

  • Cafeteria Staff
  • Janitorial Staff
  • Teaching Assistants
  • Graduate Assistants
  • Executive University Staff
  • Administrative Staff
  • IT Personnel
  • Substitute Teachers
  • Bus Drivers
  • Coaches
  • Volunteers

How Comprehensive Should a Background Check Be?

1. Criminal Background Check

An essential step for any background check is conducting a thorough criminal background check to determine if a candidate has anything to hide in their past that might prevent them from carrying out job responsibilities or could potentially cause harm to someone.

As we said earlier, a statewide or fingerprint check will not provide the most comprehensive criminal background check. So how do you find the most accurate information?

First, the background screener will conduct a social security number trace. This will help determine where a potential record should be searched. Often a criminal record search is combined with a national database search.  While alone, this is not a comprehensive database, it can provide clues to researchers where a search for a criminal record should be ordered.

2. Sex Offender Registry Search

This one should be a no-brainer—and while not every criminal record would disqualify someone from working in a school, if a candidate is found on the sex offender registry, it’s obvious they shouldn’t be with students.

It’s also important to know that conducting a criminal background check will not necessarily reveal if a candidate is listed on the sex offender registry. And while there isn’t a national sex offender registry, you should ask your screening provider how they complete this search to ensure that a comprehensive search is being done.

3. Employment & Education Verification

Candidates lie. Whether the lies are intentional or not, EmployeeScreenIQ finds a 50% discrepancy rate between the information a candidate claims on their resume and what’s verified by academic institutions and employers. That being said—wouldn’t you want to know if a candidate has inaccurate information on his or her resume?

A resume verification is essential not only for the sake of verifying that a candidate has the experience and degree that they claim, but also for exploring any potential problems they might have had in a previous position. For example, were there complaints about them from other teachers? Students? Were there signs that something was amiss in their teaching style or character?

Conducting a proper verification is key to determining if a candidate has the appropriate credentials and is a good fit for a position. Find out more about resume verification services here.

4. Substance Abuse Screening

Not typically conducted across all industries, this is another important part of the screening process to provide safety in schools and to prevent those who have a substance abuse problem from being in such a vulnerable environment. Find Out More Information on Substance Abuse Screening Here.

For more information on best practices for background screening in the education industry, download our information sheet here.

You can also learn how one client in the education industry, Lighthouse Academies, improved their background screening practices with our best-in-class screening services:

Nick Fishman
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Nick Fishman

Nick Fishman is the co-founder of EmployeeScreenIQ, a leading, global employment background screening provider, and serves as the company’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer. He pioneered the creation of EmployeeScreen University, the #1 educational resource on employment background checks for human resources, security and risk management professionals. A recognized industry expert, Nick is a frequent author, presenter and contributor to the news media. Nick is also a licensed private investigator in the states of Ohio and Texas.
Nick Fishman
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  • Michael Kraemer

    Blue Ribbon Credentials (BRC) was formed to help resolve this problem of random and non-standard credentialing, to include background screening.

    With BRC, the consumer (or employee candidate) purchases their own comprehensive background check. They can then share the results through the BRC platform with anyone they authorize.

    The BRC model standardizes the credentialing process and eliminates the cost to the enterprise (in this case, school or university) by putting the responsibility with the consumer.

    • Nick Fishman

      Thanks for your post Michael. Self-conducted background checks concern me (as it relates to employers’ acceptance of them). There are too many things a candidate can do to manipulate the outcome of that check without employer oversight. For instance, if I want to throw off a criminal background check, I could simply provide a false date of birth. Because court records are typically filed (and searched) by name and DOB, this action would immediately compromise the search. When an employer conducts a search, they leave nothing to chance and have checks and balances in place to ensure the integrity of the data.