Wednesday, January 30, 2019

MA: Turnover Starts To Give Charters A Clue

Teacher churn in Massachusetts charter schools is high (about 30%). And apparently at least some charters have decided to do something about that. But as this article by Carrie Jung at WBUR indicates, there is some sort of mystery involved.

Maybe there are clues in there.
I do give the charters involved credit for at least thinking about the issue-- in many modern charters, teacher churn is a feature, not a bug. If teachers don't stay long, they don't need raises, they don't get pensions, and they don't start getting all uppity and questioning the vision of the school's operators. Still, charter operators may be starting to come around

"Leaders are recognizing that high rates of turnover have become somewhat unsustainable," said Nathan Barrett, the senior director of research and evaluation with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. "And they’re looking at creating a teacher workforce that’s going to be there longer."

"Become somewhat sustainable"? No-- they were always unsustainable. But at least some people can see issues:

"[Students] have so much fear about the teachers leaving," said Kimberly Luck, a history teacher at the City on a Hill Circuit Street charter school. "Sometimes when teachers are out sick two days in a row they think that the teachers have quit."

Luck is a four-year veteran, making her one of the senior teachers on staff. Which blows my mind-- I had been in the classroom for about 35 years before I was the certified Oldest Fart In The Building, and the building always had a dep bench of experienced teachers. How do schools where virtually everyone is a rookie even function. When teachers have questions about instruction, who do they talk to? How does the school develop any traditions? How does the school avoid having to reinvent the wheel constantly because nobody is around to say, "Oh, we usually take care of that this way."

And how do students feel secure or at home in a school where the adult faces always change? How do students build a helpful relationship with people who up and leave all the time?

At any rate, the hunt is on for an explanation for charter churn and with it, a solution. The article tries to "both sides" its way to avoiding any sorts of conclusions, and yet it includes the following:

"The reasons for that could be differences in environments between charter schools and public schools," said Marcus Winters, an associate professor of education policy at Boston University's Wheelock College of Education and Human Development.

Well, yeah.

It could also be the types of teachers that move into charter schools. They tend to be younger and have different backgrounds." He explains that historically charter schools have relied heavily on teachers working with programs like Teach For America or City Year that recruit "non-traditional" candidates who did not study education in college before entering the classroom.

You mean, when you hire teachers who aren't really teachers, they don't stay teachers.

Traditional public schools often pay better and have shorter hours, among other things.

Winters adds that while collective bargaining agreements are common at public schools in Massachusetts, they remain pretty rare among charter schools.

Well, yes, that's the charter model. Work them to death and pay them squat and keep the union out so that you can work them to death and pay them squat. Again-- this was always supposed to be a feature, not a bug. The visionary charter CEO was supposed to be free to hire and fire at will, and to use that leverage to demand 80 hour work weeks.

Another school, MATCH Charter Public School in Allston, also launched a professional development program known as Rising Leaders. Emily Stainer, the school’s chief academic officer, said that was also inspired by teacher feedback.

"I think we’ve learned a lot about what it takes to both hire and retain talent," said Stainer. She added there's more to turnover cost than just the money and effort it takes to constantly train new staff. "I think a lot of us have learned the lesson that the longer a teacher is with us, the better the student results are."

I am smacking my head so hard right now. After decades of reformster baloney like "We have to get rid of tenure so that we can fire old teachers because young ones are full of vim and ideas and no, this has nothing to do with young teachers being cheaper," it is finally dawning that experience matters.

"I see people leaving because they want competitive pay, wanting consistency, wanting to have voice," said Luck, of City on a Hill Circuit Street. 

Oh, charter people. Luck, incidentally, teaches at one of the charters that joined the union.

The leaders at Boston Collegiate and MATCH said unionization efforts at City on a Hill did not influence their decisions to launch teacher-focused programs. They said they wanted to be responsive to their teachers, because without them they would not have a school.

"No, we totally want to listen to our teachers. The unionization wasn't at all a wake-up call about how badly we were managing the place."

The only mystery continues to be the mystery of how so many charter operators believe that the secret to running a good school is to give teachers no voice, little pay, lousy work conditions, and long hours. Okay, only sort of a mystery-- the theory of action has always been that teachers are overrated and not that important if your school is run on a really good system. Too many charter operators are sure that teacher flavored meat widgets are sufficient, and easily replaceable, if you just have a Visionary CEO steering the ship.

Pay teachers well. Treat them well. Empower them. Listen to them. It's not that hard. I'm glad to see at least a few charter operators getting a clue. We can only hope that it might spread.

1 comment:

  1. I read that article the other day and it made me want to bang my head against the wall! Recently, MA voters shut down an attempt to expand the number of charters in our state. But last week the MA Dept. of Ed. board voted to allow an existing charter in New Bedford to expand. They want the city to give them $7 million and a currently empty school building. I believe this still has to pass a state and city vote...