Teacher Churn in L.A. Charters

MathTeacher had a good comment (as usual) yesterday.

Agreed that (teaching in a No Excuses school) is hard to sustain. For all of us still in the profession after more than a few years (I’m heading into year 8 of no excuses charter school teaching), there are many we’ve watched leave our schools. We’re getting ready to start another school year next week and there are going to be a lot of new people to meet.

I always feel as if there is a tension around this issue. Schools like ours seem to take one of two tactics:

1) Embrace the reality of burn-out and organize themselves with the tacit understanding that they will burn through most of their teachers in 1-3 years.

or

2) Try to figure out ways to make the job more sustainable so the school benefits from having more experienced teachers.

Of course it’s not an either/or – there’s a balance to be found and every school finds its own equilibrium.

As someone who considers whether to leave every couple of years, (but for now keeps signing on because I love my school and believe so strongly in our work), one of my biggest stressors is when my school makes a choice that makes it seem like the first model is in ascendance. It makes me wonder if my experience is valued, and whether I can really sign on for another year and continue to do a good job.

(What are these choices: continuing to ask for more time or responsibilities, or a reorganization that takes autonomy or decision-making from teachers. These kinds of choices make sense when the reality is churning through young teachers, but makes less sense when experience is valued.)

Of course, that being said, for now I’m pretty happy with the balance we’ve found as I head into my 5th year here.

The LA Times had a story on the same topic: charter school teacher departure rates. From the story:

In the instant of a job change, Joshua Cook went from being one of the youngest teachers at Crenshaw High, a traditional school in Hyde Park, to nearly the oldest at Animo Justice, a charter school south of downtown Los Angeles.

He was 32, with two years of teaching experience.

Three years later, he had another distinction: He became one of the astonishingly large numbers of teachers who left a Los Angeles charter school.

Around 50% of teachers in charter middle and high schools left their jobs each year over a six-year period studied by UC Berkeley researchers, who released their findings last week.

"I averaged 70 hours a week of work, no problem," said Cook, who oversees student teachers for UCLA. "The upside is that when you see positive outcomes, you feel like you are directly connected to them. But working 70- and 80-hour weeks is not sustainable."

50% is, I think, twice the Boston number. I'd estimate teacher departure rates in Boston charter high schools and middle schools is 25% annually.