Charter School Teachers More Likely to Leave School Than Students, Studies Find

Two new studies from the University of California, Berkeley have found that charter school teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District are more likely than their students to leave their school at year's end.

Based on teacher turnover data from 2002 to 2009, a period when the number of Los Angeles charter schools increased from 53 to 157 campuses, Teacher Stability and Turnover in Los Angeles: The Influence of Teacher and School Characteristics (70 pages, PDF) found that elementary charter teachers were 33 percent more likely to leave than their peers in public schools, and that family poverty increased the likelihood of teacher turnover at the secondary level but not at the elementary level. A second study, How Diverse Schools Affect Student Mobility: Charter, Magnet, and Newly Built Campuses in Los Angeles (37 pages, PDF), found that charter school students and families were up to 80 percent less likely to leave their school at year's end than elementary or secondary school students at regular schools. The study also found that students attending a newly opened high school were 33 percent less likely to leave school than students attending older schools. Luke Dauter, a co-author of the study, attributed the findings to the school district's $27 billion investment, starting in 2001, in new facilities.

Taken together, the reports also found that Latino teachers and students were significantly less likely to leave one school for another; that African-American students were up to 33 percent more likely to exit at year's end compared with Latino students; and that while staff turnover was much higher for charter school teachers overall, elementary teachers under the age of 30 were less likely to move than their counterparts in regular elementary schools. Funded by the Ford, Hewlett, and Spencer foundations, the reports were produced as part of an ongoing effort by UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Education and the Center for Cities and Schools to assess teacher retention and student achievement across various types of schools in the Southland. While the Los Angeles school system faces its own unique challenges, researchers contributing to the report said the findings have implications for retaining and motivating teachers in big urban districts across the country.

"Teacher turnover rates are alarmingly high in the charter secondary schools, which have consistently reported these basic data," said UC Berkeley assistant professor of education Xiaoxia Newton, who co-authored the report on teacher turnover in Los Angeles. "Understanding who leaves, when, and under what conditions is important for policy makers who hope to retain and motivate strong teachers, especially in low-income communities and where shortages exist, like for math and science teachers."

"LA Students More True to Their Charter Schools Than Teachers, Studies Say." University of California, Berkeley Press Release 07/19/2011.