Sunday, September 01, 2013

Response to: "At Charter Schools, Short Careers by Choice"

I don’t have time to reply at length to the front-page story in the NYT last week, At Charter Schools, Short Careers by Choice, but in brief:

a) The article is factually correct but incomplete. It would have been a better NYT magazine article to really explore the issue and tradeoffs.

b) The article misleads in a very important area when it says YES Prep’s teachers stay an average of 2 ½ years, Ach First 2.3 years, and Success and KIPP four years. These numbers are the number of years the average teacher teaches at these networks, NOT their total experience. Most HPSs hire very few first-year teachers. More typically, they recruit superstars who’ve taught for 2-3 years at TFA and then come do another four years at a HPS. Thus, contrary to what most readers of the article I’m sure assume, 25-40% of the students at the HPSs profiled in the article are NOT taught by rookie teachers.

c) The article also doesn’t explore what the teachers who choose to leave the classroom do afterward. Sure, some leave the field altogether, but based on TFA alumni statistics I’ve seen (and a huge amount of anecdotal experience/observation over 20+ years), a very high number stay in the education field: they might go to grad school (which most super high achievers do, regardless of the field) and then come back as teachers, principals, ed policy folks, etc.
d) The work at high-performing charter schools (HPSs) is REALLY, REALLY hard and burnout is a HUGE issue.

e) Finding enough superstar teachers (and also principals) to both replace the ones who leave and also to fill the new grades and schools these high-performing networks are opening each year is the single biggest barrier to growth – it’s not money or facilities, as important as those things are. Thus, readers of this article might ask, why don’t the leaders of these networks just hire teachers who’ve committed to teaching for their entire careers? Are they crazy? Of course not. OF COURSE HPSs would hire teachers likely to stay a long time rather than ones likely to leave in a few years, all other things being equal. But all other things are NOT equal. As the article alludes to (but doesn’t explicitly say), teachers who are both world-class AND willing to work the crazy hours that disadvantaged students need are disproportionately likely to be: a) young; and b) thinking about a career track that eventually extends beyond teaching. So if you’re running one of these HPSs and a teacher who’s proven him/herself for two years at TFA comes to you and says, “I’ll give you two years of busting my a** and will do incredible things for the kids at your school – but then I’m going to go back to graduate school”, would you grab this person? Of course! (And then you’d do your best to keep him/her for more than two years, put them in the school leader training program, get them to come back after grad school, etc.)

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