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Tackling Teacher Turnover at Charter Schools

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There's some research that shows charter schools suffer from higher teacher turnover than traditional public schools do. One recent estimate put turnover in charters at 25 percent per year, compared with just 14 percent in traditional public schools. Several explanations have been offered for this attrition. Charter school teachers, for instance, tend to be relatively young, and more susceptible to making quick exits from the profession, some studies suggest. Dissatisfaction with working conditions, and lack of administrative support have also been cited as reasons why charter teachers tend to head for the door.

A new paper, based on research as well as a survey of charter school teachers, offers school leaders and charter management organizations advice on how they can keep more charter school teachers in the fold. Released by a Boston nonprofit called Teach Plus, the paper says charter schools can reduce teacher turnover by taking four steps. They should:

• Build a culture of "mutual feedback," in which administrators not only allow offer guidance and instruction to teachers, but also accept it from the educators on staff. Doing so is likely to improve student achievement, the authors argue, and strengthen teachers' belief in the school.

• Protect teachers' time for teaching. Charters should be "vigilant" in protecting teachers' planning time so they can improve their craft, and find creative ways to ease up on the other work they're asked to do—like lunch duty and study hall. Reducing those non-academic burdens will help reduce burnout, the paper says.

• Create career pathways for teachers. Too few charter schools today offer any room for advancement, the paper says. And when they do give teachers leadership duties, it doesn't come with relief from teaching duties, on their other end. Charter schools need to work harder to develop career ladders, based on what teachers say are the kinds of leadership roles they would want, the paper argues.

• Become more attuned to the personal needs of teachers. Charter schools' schedules and expectations "can wear down even the most idealistic and energetic hires," the paper says. Not only should teachers be adequately compensated, they should be allowed to have relatively flexible schedules, to help them keep up with responsibilities in their personal lives as they fulfill their on-the-job duties. The idea is to "create a culture of sustainability for teachers while maintaining high student achievement."

Teach Plus is a national nonprofit that seeks to help urban children by increasing their access to effective teachers. In researching its paper, the organization brought together 22 public school teachers from four states—many of them from charters—conducted research, and arranged a national survey of more than 200 public charter school teachers and former teachers.

For more information on teacher turnover in charter schools, see this paper by David A. Stuit and Thomas M. Smith, from the National Center on School Choice, and a separate analysis by the Center on Reinventing Public Education.

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