Study: LAUSD's Charter-School Teachers Dropping Out at Alarming Rate

Unlike the stubborn, nepotistic Compton Unified School District next door, LAUSD has opened its arms to the booming charter-school movement over the last decade.

Between 2002 to 2009, the number of charter campuses in L.A. climbed from 53 to 157, with much encouragement from reform-happy L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Meanwhile, a fervent debate has raged between public-school traditionalists/unionized teachers and the private charter companies -- who, like public schools, run their classrooms on taxpayer money.

Some new statistics out of the UC Berkeley School of Education might fan those flames higher:

Researchers found that L.A. charter-school teachers are three times more likely to leave their posts than teachers at regular public schools. From the UC Berkeley release:

Yet the new Los Angeles study found that family poverty increased the likelihood of teacher turnover only at the secondary [aka, high school] level, not at the elementary level.

Researchers also found that not only were the odds of secondary charter teachers exiting their schools between school years much greater than the odds of teacher departure in regular secondary public schools, but that elementary charter teachers were 33 percent more likely to leave than elementary public school teachers.

Professor Xiaoxia Newton, one of the study's authors, says she thinks the quick turnover rate can be blamed on extra "job demands" and a "severe environment" at charter schools.

"In addition to classroom responsibilities at the charter schools we studied," she says, "teachers are giving students their cell numbers, [or having to] function as a social worker or counselor." This added pressure only intensifies at the high-school level, Newton says -- where many students are unprepared to enter small, demanding charter-school classrooms from the regular system.

No salary data was included in the study, but charters are known to resist unionized employees, because it makes them harder to touch. For this very same reason, unionized teachers tend to feel more secure -- because with one of California's most powerful lobbying machines behind you, the pressure to perform is pretty much off.

From here, researchers hope to look into whether quick teacher turnover has an effect on student performance.

Newton says that on the one hand, a certain amount of new growth is good (though United Teachers Los Angeles -- who fights tooth and nail to keep its employees in place, regardless of performance -- would heartily disagree). But on the other hand, she says quick turnover is definitely not a sign of an "efficient and productive organization," and can create a "lack of cohesion" while preventing teacher development.

Strangely, though, Newton and her colleagues have been struggling to get LAUSD's charter schools to release their student-performance data -- even though charter companies are largely aligned with the reform camp, who was fully behind the Los Angeles Times' stance that teacher performance (based on student performance) was public information. The L.A. Board of Education has since taken a similar stance.

Six charter schools were recently shut down by the board amid a standardized-test cheating scandal.

You tell us: Why has there been such a big exodus of charter-school teachers? Is the performance pressure too great? Or are those kind of standards just what the failing L.A. school district needs?

[@simone_electra/swilson@laweekly.com]


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