In a fascinating article yesterday Motoko Rich of the New York Times points out that at charter schools across the country teachers are averaging two to five years in the classroom, a trend much different than the traditional schools in which teacher tenure averages 14 years. The reporter points out that this new pattern was created by Teach for America, which now places about one third of its recruits in charters. The organization matches college graduates for two years with schools serving low income children.
Many people do not see the short teacher retention time as an issue. The article quotes the founder of Teach for America Wendy Kopp as commenting, "Strong schools can withstand the turnover of their teachers. The strongest schools develop their teachers tremendously so they become great in the classroom even in their first and second years."
Jennifer Hines, a senior administrator at YES Prep in Houston remarked, "We have this motivated, highly driven work force who are now wondering, 'O.K., I've got this, what's the next thing?' There is a certain comfort level that we have with people who are perhaps going to come into YES Prep and not stay forever."
Critics of charters make the point that the long hours and school years are driving teachers to quit their jobs sooner. But others say that teachers with more experience are often exhausted and less productive. Doug McCurry, an administrator of Achievement First, a charter school operator, stated, "My take is yes, we do need and want some number of teachers to be 'lifers,' for lack of a better word. But, he said, he would be happy if 'the majority of the teachers that walked in the door gave us five to seven really good teaching years and then went on to something else.'" Instructors in his network last an average of 2.3 years.
Other well-known charters experience relatively short teacher tenure. Eva Moskowitz's Success Academy Charter School's average four years. KIPP shares the same statistic.
Perhaps recognizing this emerging pattern, D.C. Chancellor Henderson has stated, according to the Times article, that teachers with three years of experience should make $80,000. Some charter school leaders have said that a stronger pay structure could lead to improved teacher retention.