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Teachers Move, Students Stay at L.A. Charter Schools

Charter school teachers in the 678,000-student Los Angeles school district are up to three times more likely to leave their school at year's end compared to their peers in traditional public schools, according to a study from the University of California, Berkeley.

But at the same time, a second study from the university released in tandem with the first shows that charter school students tend to be loyal to their schools: They were up to 80 percent less likely to leave their charter schools than their peers at traditional public schools.

"While charter teachers are churning in and out of where they work, charter students and parents seem more loyal to their school choice," said Luke Dauter, a Berkeley doctoral student in sociology and lead author of the study on student mobility, in a statement.

The teacher turnover rate was particularly high among charter school educators in secondary schools, said Xiaoxia Newton, an assistant professor of education at Berkeley and the lead author of the study on teacher mobility.

"Understanding who leaves, when, and under what conditions is important for policy makers who hope to retain and motivate strong teachers, especially in low-income communities and where shortages exist, like for math and science teachers," Newton said in a statement.

Both studies looked at the time frame between 2002 and 2009, when the number of charter schools in Los Angeles tripled from 53 to 157 campuses. Bruce Fuller, a Berkeley professor of education and public policy, was a co-author on both reports.

More research is needed to determine how poor teacher retention is linked to issues such as teacher evaluation and accountability and equitable distribution of good teachers, the report noted.

In addition to studying overall trends, the researchers highlighted other interesting findings. From the report:

  • Latino teachers and students were significantly less likely to leave one school for another, whether or not their school was a charter school.
  • African-American students were up to a third more like to exit at year's end compared with Latino pupils. Many black students migrated to rapidly growing charter schools.
  • While staff turnover was much higher for charter teachers overall, elementary charter teachers under the age of 30 were less likely to move than their counterparts in traditional elementary schools in Los Angeles.
  • Magnet elementary schools, which offer more specialized courses or curricula, experienced little student turnover.

The researchers said they plan to conduct further research on the effects of schools on student achievement.

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