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Former Charter Teacher: Why Teacher Attrition is High in Charter Schools

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Alternet posted an informative article that explains why charter schools churn through teachers. It was written by Rann Miller, who taught for six years in a charter school in Camden, New Jersey.

He writes:

“John was fresh-out-of-college and had never set foot in a city school before. Hired the day before the school year started, he missed out on the two-and-a-half weeks of training the charter organization had given the rest of us on what to expect at a turnaround school in Camden, NJ. John lasted less than a week.

“I’d started the year as a history teacher, relieved to be without the responsibility of my own classroom and homeroom. But after five more teachers followed John out of the school building within the first month, I had both. When I left at the beginning of the next school year, seven more teachers were right behind me.

“When a school loses teachers, by choice or by chance, students are cheated out of continuity, while the goals and objectives of the entire organization can be hindered. In charter schools, including the ones where I taught for six years, this problem is particularly pronounced. Teachers leave charters at significantly higher rates when compared to traditional public schools. Among urban charter schools, it’s not uncommon to see teachers turning over at a rate of 30, 40 or even 50% a year. I’ve witnessed first hand—and experienced—why this is such a problem, and what causes teachers to flee. But I’ve also seen for myself that there are charter schools and networks that don’t mind high levels of teacher turnover. Turmoil and churn work for organizations that are determined to control both the makeup and the mindset of their faculty…

“The weeding process is all about maintaining control where there is none. It serves to remove “troublemakers”: the folks who will hold the organization accountable. For charter leadership looking to maintain sovereignty of mission and mission implementation, teachers who are independent thinkers and teachers with lives outside of schools are as much of a detriment as those deemed incompetent. The teachers who remain either like the Kool-Aid or at the very least are still thirsty.

“Teacher turnover is an effective tool for organizations that seek to shift accountability away from school leadership. High teacher attrition is an accountability loophole. Rather than rethink a mission that prizes drilling over teaching, or addressing why young teachers get burned out or why teachers of color walk away from the very communities they are so passionate about, some charter leaders will often put the blame on the leavers. “They couldn’t cut it,” you’ll hear them say. They’ll insist to stakeholders that some teachers weren’t good enough, while others weren’t the right “fit” for the organizational mission and culture. The charter school’s organizational leadership and mission remain intact; anyone who is not fighting for “our kids” has been let go.”

Read it all. Quite a story.

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