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Friday, June 30, 2017

Turnover, A Charter School Plague

From the N.Y. Daily News

By Alyssa Katz
June 26, 2017

"Last year, 47% of her school’s teaching staff turned over. And during her six years, the school had three principals."

Come and go (CHRISTIE M FARRIELLA/FOR NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

The usual end-of-year school rites for our fifth-grader are especially bittersweet this year, because it is her last at the charter school where she has learned, played, made friends and grown since kindergarten.

Unlike many kids at her stage, she had a choice to stay at her K-8 school — but as a family we together decided to jump from the charter to a district junior high run by the city’s Department of Education.

Some extracurricular forces eased the choice. My husband, who’s logged hundreds of miles driving to and fro, will hand our girl off to a convenient bus. She in turn will be thrilled to shed a loathed uniform. Me, I look forward to an end to lunch box prep, thanks to an improved cafeteria menu.

But the bottom line is that her elementary-school years were marked with a whirlwind of teachers that, if she and her classmates were lucky, would last the year and then move on.

The ritual became as certain as winter succeeded fall: Some parent would post on the school Facebook group that their child’s teacher was leaving mid-year. Moans and commiseration ensued.

Our child avoided that fate until last fall, when, two weeks in, her promising teacher — a veteran at three years served — suddenly vanished, and a substitute arrived much sooner than any explanation. Her class refound its footing, eventually, with a new teacher — but never quite recovered from those lost weeks.

With so many teachers coming and going, the school as a whole felt perpetually improvisational. I’ll always remember it as a flurry of photocopied handouts.

Someone thought it was a good idea to have the teachers use a social media app to track each kid’s classroom conduct throughout the day and share photos and videos with parents. By the end of many an extra-long instructional day, running from 8-3:30, Netflix filled out excess time.

Last year, 47% of her school’s teaching staff turned over. And during her six years, the school had three principals.

I’m not naming the school because it would be unfair to single it out — it turns out such astonishingly high rates of teacher turnover year by year are par for the course among charter schools.

Among New York charter school teachers, 41% changed jobs last year — compared to just 18% of district school teachers. The retention gap between district and charter schools is not new, but it has been widening over time.

The big reason for charters’ turnover plague is plain as day: District school teachers are universally represented by teachers unions, and enjoy contracts whose ample benefits include generous pension plans, non-negotiable business hours and tenure.

When our child’s teacher got an offer on Long Island last September, that was that.

Charter school teachers, in glaring contrast are often called on to work extra hours after school, and during summers, and whenever.

Which job would you pick if given a choice? Not even a close call. For all but the Teach for America types who intend to log a few years and switch tracks, the union jobs are better jobs, where educators build careers.

In an attempt to address the teacher-retention challenge, our kid’s school scaled back the extended academic year and school day that had helped distinguish it from its neighbors, to little avail.

Other schools manage comings and goings by building well-oiled instructional assembly lines, where teachers can plug in and out. The annual turnover rate at some schools in the notoriously demanding Success Academy network approaches 60%, but that makes no dent in sky-high test scores.

Mayor de Blasio’s 2014 contract settlement with the United Federation of Teachers accelerated charter flight because it triggered a wave of retirements by union teachers . Charter teachers leapt at the chance to secure Department of Education job openings — and charter kids lost the experience those developing educators had gained.

Strong bargaining power is the driving reason the UFT fights to stop the state Legislature from expanding number of permitted charter schools, so fiercely that it just sacrificed mayoral control. Charters, with about 106,000 kids, represent 10% of the children in the city public school system.

Bump that up and the UFT loses not only dues but bargaining power to keep attractive wages, benefits and work rules.

In retrospect, our disappointment in a charter school we’d once had high hopes for should have come as no surprise — even comeuppance for having betrayed the union cause. Somehow, we’d hoped, the glaringly obvious economics at work would spare our child.

It’s with our parental gratitude for every teacher who sweated the extra hours to make her school a success, and a hunger for stability not so different than the one that drives aspiring teachers to leave charters, that our child now makes her own move.

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