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August 27, 2013 12:10 PM The Short Careers of Charter School Teachers

By Daniel Luzer

OldTeacher

One important competent of public school reform in the last decade or so is enthusiastic support for charter schools. If, after all, traditional public schools aren’t working, it seems like a good idea to allow competition for schools, alternative schools that can operate outside of many of the rules governing traditional schools.

While the effectiveness of this strategy is debatable, it’s certainly a popular model, particular because such schools can attract smart and energetic young people willing to devote extraordinary time and effort to teaching effectively.

But they don’t stay long. According to an article in the New York Times:

As tens of millions of pupils across the country begin their school year, charter networks are developing what amounts to a youth cult in which teaching for two to five years is seen as acceptable and, at times, even desirable. Teachers in the nation’s traditional public schools have an average of close to 14 years of experience, and public school leaders and policy makers have long made it a priority to reduce teacher turnover.
But with teachers confronting the overhaul of evaluations and tenure as well as looming changes in pension benefits, the small but rapidly growing charter school movement — with schools that are publicly financed but privately operated — is pushing to redefine the arc of a teaching career.

Redefined to mean “really short.” While in general education researchers point out that experience matters, and teacher turnover is a cause of low achievement, Teach for America’s Wendy Kopp, whose own program is very much modeled on short teacher careers, maintains that, “Strong schools can withstand the turnover of their teachers. The strongest schools develop their teachers tremendously so they become great in the classroom even in their first and second years.”

That’s true, but it seems likely that “the strongest schools” would be even more effective if their teachers who are so “great in the classroom even in their first and second years” stayed around longer.

Then again, maybe this isn’t specifically about education reform at all. The reality is that this reflects the professional lives of young people in general in America. It’s not just teachers who switch jobs after two or three years. Most professionals operate this way now. According to a recent survey of people born between 1977 and 1997, 91 percent of them expect to stay in a job for less than three years.

There’s no reason to expect teachers to behave any differently.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

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