Studies show unionized charters are desperately needed

Bill Sims, president and CEO of the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools said, in defense of charter school teachers poor pay and conditions, "Charter school teachers often are making less than district teachers but because they tend to be smaller schools, with smaller classrooms, less bureaucracy, they officer[sic] a pay in 'psychic salary' that more often than not makes up the difference". If this is true, why do so many charter school teachers quit? Indeed, study after study has found that charter school teachers leave at alarming rates, with pay and poor conditions often cited as the main reason.

The Ohio Collaborative, an educational research group initiated by the Ohio Board of Regents and housed at Ohio State, produce a study in 2005 which found

Nearly half of the teachers in Ohio's charter schools quit their jobs each year, with the majority leaving teaching altogether, according to a new study.

From 2000 to 2003, between 44 and 52 percent of charter school teachers quit their positions each year. Few took other jobs in teaching.

In comparison, between 6 and 11 percent of teachers in traditional public schools left their positions during each of those years. Even in major urban, high poverty public schools, the teacher attrition rate was only between 9 and 19 percent.
The results showed many areas of concern, Opfer said.

For example, charter schools had an average of 30 pupils for each teacher in 2004, compared to 19 pupils per teacher in traditional public schools. The pupil-teacher ratio in charter schools increased significantly from 2003, when there were 24 pupils per teacher.

Class sizes that are almost twice the size of traditional schools puts lie to the claim by Bill Simms that charter teachers enjoy smaller class sizes. His entire defense of poor pay and conditions in charter schools is falling apart or looks absurd ('Psychic pay').

Other studies have found the same problems, time and time again in Charter schools. Poor pay and working conditions causing high rates of attrition - that is, high rates of charter school teachers quitting to find jobs more rewarding, both professionally and economically.

A 2007 study, titled "Teacher Attrition in Charter Schools", by The Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice, found

  • The single background characteristic that strongly predicted teacher attrition was age: younger teachers in charter schools are more likely to leave than older teachers. No significant attrition differences appeared between males and females or for African-American teachers.
  • Among teacher qualification variables, the best predictors were “years of experience” and “years at current school.” Teachers with limited experience were significantly more likely to leave their charter schools. (It is presumed that many of these inexperienced teachers moved to teaching jobs in other schools.).
  • Certification was also significant. Attrition was higher for noncertified teachers and for teachers who were teaching outside their certification areas; this situation may be related to the No Child Left Behind act’s pressure for ensuring teaching staff meet its definition of “highly qualified.”
  • Other strong and significant factors included teachers’ relative satisfaction/dissatisfaction with the school’s: 1) mission, 2) perceived ability to attain the mission, and 3) administration and governance. Generally, teachers who left were also routinely less satisfied with: curriculum and instruction; resources and facilities; and salary and benefits. It appeared that teachers who were not satisfied were leaving or were being asked to leave.

These findings prove that experience does matter, and so does education and certification - contrary to many claims made by corporate education reformers. This study made the following recommendations for improving this serious rate of attrition

  • Efforts should be made to strengthen teachers’ sense of security as much as possible.
  • Efforts should be made to increase teachers’ satisfaction with working conditions, salaries, benefits, administration, and governance.

Efforts that could easily be achieved by organizing charter school teachers and the subsequent use of collective bargaining.

The National Center of School Choice, at Vanderbilt University produced a study in 2010, again finding the same results, with the same set of problems

The rate that teachers leave the profession and move between schools is significantly higher in charter schools than in traditional public schools.
  • Charter schools that are started from the ground up experience significantly more attrition and mobility than those converted from traditional public schools.
  • Differences in teacher characteristics explain a large portion of the turnover gap among charter and traditional public school teachers.
  • Dissatisfaction with working conditions is an important reason why charter school teachers are significantly more likely to switch schools or leave the profession.
  • Involuntary attrition is significantly higher in charter schools.

Taken one by one - conversion schools, those that might have had some collective bargaining history, or in a handful of cases, still do, are less affected than start up schools where teachers can be treated as temporary help. Experience and certifications matter, so too does poor pay and working conditions offered by most charter schools, and employees have little or no job security and work at will.

These are all serious problem which can be resolved easily through collective bargaining. The studies results prove it

The odds that a teacher in a charter school will leave the profession are 230 percent greater than the odds that a teacher in a traditional public school in their state will do so.

In the charter schools, nearly a quarter of the teachers ended up leaving by the end of the school year, 14 percent of them leaving the field altogether and 11 percent transferring to another school.

By comparison, the average turnover rate in the regular public schools in the same states was around 14 percent. Half the departing teachers were leavers and half were switchers.

So when corporate education reformers, and charter school boosters like Terry Ryan at the Fordham Institute claim "unionized charters would be a setback for Ohio’s school improvement efforts", they need to go deeper than simple rhetoric and address these serious problems of massive teacher attrition at the schools they are promoting. Bill Simms, CEO of the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, need to stop pretending charter schools are some great place for predominantly young, inexperienced, underpaid teachers to be working, and instead begin to formulate ways in which working conditions can be improved in order to attract and retain great teachers for charter students to benefit from.

OEA has it right, it's time to organize some charter schools and see what impact improved conditions has upon charter quality - this kind of experimentation after all is what charter schools were designed to test. They certainly weren't designed to maximize profits as some proponents, operators and authorizers have come to believe.