Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Teacher turnover is a disadvantaged school problem, not a charter school problem

Seattle, WA - A new study from the National Charter School Research Project (NCSRP) at the University of Washington's Center on Reinventing Public Education may quiet some fears that charter schools are particularly susceptible to teacher turnover.

Researchers Betheny Gross and Michael DeArmond analyzed the careers of 956 newly hired charter school teachers and 19,695 newly hired traditional public school teachers in Wisconsin between 1998 and 2006. While not representative of the charter school sector overall, the study's analysis provides some important clues about the nature of teacher turnover in charter schools.

Their report, Parallel Patterns: Teacher Attrition in Charter vs. District Schools, finds that although charter school turnover rates are generally higher they are not necessarily unique. At least in Wisconsin, turnover in charter schools appears to be driven by the same factors at work in traditional public schools, a combination of inexperienced teachers and demanding teaching environments, say Gross and DeArmond, who presented their findings at the 2010 American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Meeting in Denver, CO.

The report also finds that charter schools in Wisconsin are relatively better at retaining teachers in urban schools; teachers in urban charter schools were less likely to leave their schools than similar teachers in urban traditional public schools.

Gross and DeArmond also reviewed national data from the U.S. Department of Education's 1999-00 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) and 2000-01 Teacher Follow-up Survey (TFS) to better understand why teachers left their schools.* They found that reasons for moving and leaving were similar across traditional public schools and charter schools, with a few exceptions. Compared to traditional public school teachers, charter school teachers were more likely to say they left due to a lack of job security and the expansive nature of their work.

The report outlines three recommendations for charter school leaders and policymakers concerned about teacher turnover:

  • Address teachers' concerns about job loss and workload before those concerns translate into unwanted attrition.
  • Hire a core of experienced teachers who can mentor younger, more inexperienced teachers.
  • Look for solutions that help reduce turnover in urban schools, be they charter schools or traditional schools, including targeting financial resources to schools that enroll the most underserved students.

* CRPE researchers relied on this somewhat dated version of the SASS-TFS because it includes a large sample of charter schools (the survey was sent to a census of charter schools); subsequent versions of the SASS-TFS included far fewer charter school leavers.