- The rate that teachers leave the profession and move between schools is significantly higher in charter schools than in traditional public schools.
- Charter schools that are started from the ground up experience significantly more attrition and mobility than those converted from traditional public schools.
- Differences in teacher characteristics explain a large portion of the turnover gap among charter and traditional public school teachers.
- Dissatisfaction with working conditions is an important reason why charter school teachers are significantly more likely to switch schools or leave the profession.
- Involuntary attrition is significantly higher in charter schools.
The rapid growth in charter schools during the past two decades has occurred despite inconclusive evidence that they are academically superior to their traditional public school counterparts…The current study aimed to contribute to a deeper understanding of the organizational conditions of charter schools by examining teacher turnover…the study examined how turnover varies within the charter school sector. Central questions of the study were:
- How does the rate of teacher turnover differ between charter schools and traditional public schools?
- How do teacher turnover rates vary within the charter school universe, and which types of charter schools have higher/lower turnover rates?
- To what extent are the differences in turnover rates between charter schools and traditional public schools explained by differences in teacher characteristics?
- To what extent are the differences in turnover rates between charter schools and traditional public schools explained by differences in organizational conditions and contextual factors?
- What reasons do charter school teachers give for leaving the profession or moving between schools, and how do these reasons differ from those given by traditional public school teachers?
The study ultimately was interested in the relationship between school sector (charter school and traditional public school) and teacher turnover (attrition and mobility)…
Charter school teachers leave the profession and move between schools at significantly higher rates than teachers in traditional public schools. The odds of a charter school teacher leaving the profession versus staying in the same school were 130 percent greater than those of a traditional public school teacher. Similarly, the odds of a charter school teacher moving to another school were 76 percent greater.
Charter schools that are started from the ground up experience significantly more attrition and mobility than those that are converted from traditional public schools. Teachers at start-up charter schools were almost twice as likely to leave the profession and almost three times as likely to switch schools as teachers at conversion charters. This finding aligns with Buddin and Zimmer’s (2005) conclusion that conversion charter schools behave more like traditional public schools than start-up charter schools. EMO-managed charter schools did not have significantly different turnover rates than their non-EMO counterparts. There also was not a significant difference in teacher turnover between new charter schools and those that have operated for more than three years.
Differences in teacher characteristics explain a large portion of the gap in turnover rates among charter and traditional public school teachers. Charter school teachers were on average younger than traditional public school teachers, which makes them more likely to leave the profession or change schools. In addition, charter school teachers were more likely to be part time and less likely to have an education degree or state certification of any type. The odds of an uncertified teacher leaving the profession were 200 percent greater than those of certified teachers, and part-time teachers were found to be twice as likely to leave teaching as their full-time peers. Simply put, charter schools tend to hire people who are at greater risk of both leaving the profession and switching schools.
Dissatisfaction with working conditions is an important reason why voluntary teacher mobility is significantly higher in charter schools than in traditional public schools. The most common reason given by charter school teachers for voluntarily leaving the teaching profession was that they were dissatisfied with the school. Furthermore, 47 percent of charter school teachers who voluntarily switched to different schools did so because they were dissatisfied with either the workplace conditions or administrator support in their previous schools. The data lend minimal support to the claim that turnover is higher in charter schools because these schools are leveraging flexibility in personnel policies to remove underperforming teachers. Rather, most of the turnover in charter schools is voluntary by teachers and dysfunctional (i.e., detrimental to the school) rather than functional (i.e., beneficial to the school). These findings support those of Miron and Applegate’s (2007) study of charter school teacher attrition, which found that charter school teachers were “voting with their feet” and leaving charter schools because of dissatisfaction with workplace conditions of the schools.
Involuntary attrition is significantly higher in charter schools. This finding may stem from the fact that charter schools have fewer regulatory barriers to dismissing poor-performing teachers but also may be due to other factors, such as school closings due to charter revocations or the dismissal of uncertified teachers in order to comply with the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act’s Highly Qualified Teacher mandate.
Policy and Research Implications
Teacher turnover is a critical issue within K–12 public education. High turnover is expected to have detrimental effects on school quality and to result in substantial financial costs to schools and districts. These expenses arise from a range of activities, including moving the teacher from the school, recruiting and hiring a new teacher, and training the new teacher. Therefore, it is important to understand the nature of turnover as well as the factors that explain why it is higher in some schools than in others.
Collectively, the findings from this study illuminate a critical challenge facing charter schools and may explain in part why they do not systematically outperform their traditional public school counterparts. The rates of both attrition and mobility for charter schools are high by any standard. Although this study found minimal evidence that charter schools are taking advantage of their more flexible personnel policies to remove underperforming teachers, the greater cause of the higher attrition and mobility rates in charter schools is teachers choosing to leave out of dissatisfaction with the school and/or its working conditions. The organizational disruption caused by this high level of dysfunctional turnover likely makes it more difficult for charter schools to develop and sustain high levels of instructional quality from year to year.
This brief is supported by the National Center on School Choice, which is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) (R305A040043). All opinions expressed in this paper represent those of the authors and not necessarily the institutions with which they are affiliated or the U.S. Department of Education. All errors in this paper are solely the responsibility of the authors. For more information, please visit the Center website at http://www.vanderbilt.edu/schoolchoice/.
The NCSC is funded by a five-year, $13.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. Its lead institution is Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. The center is housed on the campus of Peabody College, one of the nation’s top graduate schools of education.
Locate the full working paper @ http://www.vanderbilt.edu/schoolchoice/search/publication.php?id=62