School & District Management

Are Teachers Jumping the Charter School Ship?

By Debra Viadero — April 14, 2009 2 min read

Here’s an interesting statistical nugget I picked up yesterday at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association: The odds that a teacher in a charter school will leave the profession are 230 percent greater than the odds that a teacher in a traditional public school in their state will do so.

The disturbingly high figure comes from a study by a pair of researchers from Vanderbilt University in Nashville. David A. Stuit and Thomas M. Smith analyzed federal data from the 2003-04 school year on 14,428 teachers from charters and traditional public schools in 16 states.

In the charter schools, nearly a quarter of the teachers ended up leaving by the end of the school year, 14 percent of them leaving the field altogether and 11 percent transferring to another school.

By comparison, the average turnover rate in the regular public schools in the same states was around 14 percent. Half the departing teachers were leavers and half were switchers.

In the charters, most of the turnover came in schools that were being launched from the ground up rather than in so-called “conversion schools,” which are existing public schools that were converted into charters. It didn’t seem to make much difference, though, whether the schools were being managed by private outside providers or some other entity.

Stuit said the findings could help explain why research so far has failed to turn up any consistent advantages for charter schools in terms of student achievement. But, as one commenter at the session pointed out, there could also be two sides to that coin. The charter schools may be using their staffing flexibility to get rid of teachers who aren’t performing up to par and that might be a good thing.

Here’s one more possibility: The charter school teachers, like Teach For America teachers, may have intended from the start for their teaching careers to be a temporary gig.

I hope to write more on this and other charter school studies later on in the week. But the competition for coverage is stiff. More than 2,000 presentations are on the five-day program here in San Diego.

UPDATE: Thanks to my sharp-eyed readers for spotting a mistake in an earlier version of this post, when I listed the odds of charter school teachers leaving their jobs as 230 times greater than those of teachers in regular public schools in their states. I have changed that to 230 percent, based on the information I have at this time. I’m trying to seek further clarification and will give another update if need be.
UPDATE II: I just got a look at the paper. The 230 percent figure refers to the number of teachers leaving the profession and that change has been made in the entry above. I’m working on getting a link to the paper so that readers can analyze the math for themselves.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.