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Teacher Turnover Rates in Charter Schools Reconsidered

I got some serious egg on my face back in April when I reported on findings from a study exploring teacher turnover rates in charter schools. The research, which was conducted by a pair of researchers from Vanderbilt University, was being presented during the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in San Diego. The researchers said at the time that they had found that the odds that a teacher will leave the profession versus stay in the same school are 230 percent higher for charter school teachers than they are for teachers in regular public schools. Unfortunately, I initially reported that charter school teachers are 230 times more likely to leave. Big—no, make that huge—mistake.

Even after that mistake was corrected, though, savvy readers continued to question the researchers' math. The readers, as it turns out, were right.

The final report on the study, published this week by the National Center for the Study of Privatization In Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, shows that the actual figure should be 132 percent. That is, the odds that a teacher will leave the profession versus stay in the same school are 132 percent greater for charter school teachers than they are for regular public school teachers. The study also says that a teacher will switch schools rather than stay at the same school are 76 percent higher for the charter teachers.

The research draws on national survey data for the 2003-04 school year. It found that 25 percent of charter school teachers turned over that year, compared to 14 percent of traditional public school teachers. Fourteen percent of the charter teachers left the profession altogether and 11 percent moved to a different school. Among the public school teachers, 7 percent left the profession and 7 percent switched schools.

The more-polished version of the study also includes some additional calculations aimed at pinpointing the reasons why so many more charter teachers are leaving. Are they quitting in frustration or leaving involuntarily?

Mostly the former, according to these researchers. "Compared to traditional public school teachers," they write, "charter school teachers are more likely to voluntarily leave the profession or move to a new school because they are dissatisfied with the school and its working conditions."

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