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Are Teachers Jumping the Charter School Ship?

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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.

16 Comments

Teachers in charter schools are 230 times more likely to leave the profession than teachers at traditional public schools in their states. You read it right. That's 230 times.

25 percent turnover rate in charter schools, divided by 14 percent turnover rate in other public schools, and the ratio is 230? Where is that figure coming from?

A publicly funded charter school in Memphis, TN has made headlines recently for it's harmful discipline practice of assembling the entire student body of middle/high students weekly and Physically punishing boys and girls (with wooden paddles and hand whipping with leather straps) in front of all of the other students as a deterrent. Administrators seem to feel this is REASONABLE and that they are above laws that protect children from assault.

I agree with Stuart Buck's comment, where is the math on this? It doesn't make sense. How was the "230 times" calculated. I am assuming this is a typo and/or just plain sloppy journalism.

The first paragraph is simply inacurate.

An abstract at http://newswise.com/articles/view/551070/
states:

"Thomas M. Smith and David Stuit will report their findings that the odds of a charter school teacher leaving the profession or changing schools is over 200 percent greater than the odds of a traditional public school teacher doing so. In part, the higher turnover rates are due to the fact that charter school teachers are, on average, younger and less likely to hold regular teaching certificates. Smith and Stuit found no linkage between higher turnover and charter schools' personnel policies that make it easier to get rid of under-performing teachers."

230% more likely is not the same as 230 times more likely. Please post a correction. A link the conference paper (if it is available) would also be helpful.

200 percent makes more sense if you're talking about those who leave the profession: from the figures reported, 14% of charter teachers leave the field, compared to 7% of other public school teachers. That's 2 times more likely (or 200%), not 230 times more likely.

more math errors

also worth plumbing to see
a) similar groups of teachers (young vs. mid career)
b) whether the schools were closing (more likely with a charter, I would think)
c) how well the leaving the profession was tracked eg going back for a degree or moving to a different state might be more likely for a younger cadre of teacher.
d) if they were leaving professionbecause they were poor teachers (perhaps more likely if a charter since they appear more ready to act in this)

devil is always in the details


The question that needs to be asked is why do charter school teachers leave? I left because I was being targeted and harassed because I am a Lesbian. The school was so focused on my love life that they no longer cared about the quality of my teaching. The salary was a secondary reason. This is the price to be paid when parents with a personal agenda get to run a school. They also operate outside of the law, like when they prayed at the dedication of a new school building. Oversight, oversight, oversight!!!!!

Charter schools in Ohio pay poorly and they have some of the toughest students to work with. Regardless of the math, I understand the point of the article. Working with sixth graders on a 1st-2nd grade reading level can take the heart out of the job.

Deborah, if 14 percent of charter school teachers and 7 percent of regular school teachers at the end of one year, then then statement that the odds a charter school teacher will leave are 230 percent greater than regular school teachers to leave is also inaccurate (although not as much of a whooper as "230 times more likely"). The odds are 100 percent greater.

The 230% is an interpretation of a log-odds ratio of 3.368. I'll be posting more on the paper on my site this afternoon.

Actually, the updated log-odds ratio of 3.368 means that the figure should be 237%. The calculation controls for clustering of teachers within schools, which is why the result is different from a simple comparison of the 14.1% and 7.0% figures.

Here's how the calculation was explained to me: an odds ratio of 1 would mean that teachers were equally likely to leave the profession from both sectors. A ratio of 3.368 means that those in charter schools were 3.368-1 (=2.37, move the decimal point so that it turns into 237) percent more likely to leave.

Tom,

Probability isn't the same as odds, though they're related. I'd prefer "odds" and that word only rather than "likely," because "likely" looks too close to probability.

Who cares about the math? Why are they leaving?
I am one of those "exiters" from charter schools. I left because the school was not run well. I do not want to worry about if I am going to get paid month to month. My former school was run by one person on a power trip. The curriculum, parents, and students were all great, but the lack of funding was a constant battle.

Effective charters keep their effective teachers. Nagging problem of collective stereotyping of charter schools creates confusion in these teacher-defection data. Many early charters focused on difficult learners with sometimes tricked-up methods; teachers burned out early or schools failed. Core Knowledge charters with adequate profprep are typically top-rated and keep teachers because they are great places in which to teach.

Lower pay than traditional public schools, less overall input and rights than teachers with unions in traditional public schools, longer hours without compensation, constant pressure to teach to the test in order to meet arbitrary standards like the ill conceived NCLB. No wonder these teachers are leaving at a roughly two to one ratio. The neoliberal gutting of public education cannot continue unabated without consequence. Fortunately, the definitive report recently published by Stanford/CREDO proves charters are no panacea.

Do we really think the Waltons, Gates, and Broads would be pouring millions of dollars into endeavors that were good for our communities or education? These giant corporate entities are hardly advocates of progressive education or social equality. The great irony is the reactionaries who claim more money for education is not the answer. That doesn't prevent charters like Green Dot from taking millions from them in order to perpetuate their uneven playing fields.

Charter stalwarts claiming competition and free market ideas will revolutionize education on the heels of the dot com and housing bubble disasters have no sense of irony. We don't need the ideologies that wrecked the economy determining policy in pedagogy. We don't need AIG, Goldman Sachs, and Madoff Investment Securities thinking running our schools. Green Dot is a great example; among its top executives of Steve Barr, Marco Petruzzi, and Ben Austin, there's not a single education degree.

I'm working in a charter school and it's horrible. Teachers are leaving because they are being treated like animals! They are yelled at publically, made to work until past 5PM at least once a week and often longer to get everything done. Teachers are told they will be fired (literally) or that if they don't want to do something that "there is the door". The moral is low and teachers are not appreciated. Mandatory work also is expected over the week-end with no extra pay; never mind that salaries are MUCH lower than public schools. Not a place to send your child or to work.

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