Students Pay the Price for Unequal Treatment of Charter School Teachers

Written by: Amy Auletto

Primary Source: Green & Write, March 17, 2016

Research on charter school performance continues to conclude that, generally speaking, charter schools are no better or worse than traditional public schools (TPS) when it comes to academic achievement. While student outcomes are relatively similar across the two types of schools, the experiences of teachers are quite different. Using data from the School and Staffing Survey: 2011-12 (SASS), this piece highlights some of the ways that charter school teachers – and as a result charter school students – are put at a disadvantage compared to their TPS counterparts.

Charter School Teachers Paid Less to Work Longer Hours

Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Charter school teachers are paid significantly less than their TPS colleagues, yet work more days per school year and slightly longer hours each week. Charter school teachers are also given larger class sizes and teach more students who are likely to have additional learning needs. Here is a breakdown of how working conditions compare according to the SASS:

Charter Schools Traditional Public Schools
Average Annual Teacher Salary $43,355 $52,839
Days Worked Per Year 199.3 187.5
Hours Worked Per Week 52.1 51.3
Average Self-Contained Class Size 22.5 21
English Language Learners 14.3% 11.3%
Racial/Ethnic Minorities 63.2% 42.2%

Why are charter school teachers getting paid so much less? Dr. Gary Miron of Western Michigan University points to the fact that charter schools spend more on administrative salaries and less on instructional costs. A 2014 report also argues that charter schools receive less funding and that this gap has grown to 28.4%, meaning that the charter schools students receive, on average, $3,814 less annually than their TPS peers.

Less Experience and Education, More Likely to Leave the Profession

With lower salaries and longer hours, charter schools often struggle to attract teachers, especially those with experience and plans to stay in the teaching profession. SASS data shows that while only 10.7% of TPS teachers are novice (3 years or less experience), this rate jumps to 26.3% in charter schools. TPS teachers have also pursued more advanced degrees, with 56.8% holding a master’s degree or higher. This number is only 43.6% in charter schools.

Perhaps most telling of this divide between charter and TPS teachers are their long-term plans. The SASS asked teachers in both school types how long they plan to remain in the profession. Teachers were given a range of options to choose from, including anything from “Definitely planning to leave as soon as I can.” to “As long as I am able to.” While response rates to some of these options were not all that different, a few in particular speak to the lack of commitment charter school teachers appear to have to the profession:

  • 4% of TPS teachers plan to teach until eligible for retirement benefits, as opposed to only 12.8% of charter school teachers.
  • 3% of charter school teachers plan to leave the profession when a more desirable opportunity comes along, while only 4.7% of TPS selected this option.
  • Only 2.5% of TPS teachers plan to stop teaching when a major life event, such as parenthood or marriage, occurs. For charter school teachers, this rate is 4.5%.

These numbers illustrate the difficulties that charter schools face when it comes to teacher recruitment. A 2012 study found that charter school teachers who left their jobs were more likely to cite salary as a reason than TPS teachers. Lower pay, longer hours, and more difficult work conditions appear to be leading some charter schools to treat teaching as a short-term job rather than a lifelong career opportunity.

Implications for Students

By funding charter schools at lower rates and spending more of that revenue on administrative salaries, state lawmakers are ensuring that teachers are not being adequately compensated. As a result, charter schools struggle to find and keep teachers. Ultimately, students are paying the prices for these disparities. Charter school students are being taught by teachers with fewer years of experience and lower levels of education. These teachers also do not usually have permanent plans to stay in the field of education.

However, not all charter schools are the same. There is recent evidence that working conditions vary by management style, with stand-alone charter schools faring much better in terms of teacher satisfaction than those run by management organizations. Independently operated charter schools offer higher teacher salaries, more autonomy, and as a result, higher job satisfaction. Charter schools operated by management organizations may have something to learn from stand-alone charter schools. Improving teacher compensation and work conditions will enable charter schools to level the playing field for both teachers and students.

Contact Amy: aulettoa@msu.edu

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Amy Auletto
Amy Auletto is a doctoral student in Educational Policy. She is interested in the impact that equitable funding and access to effective teachers have on the educational outcomes of disadvantaged student populations. Prior to beginning her studies at Michigan State University, she taught middle school math in Detroit. Amy earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology, master of Social Work, and MA in educational studies from the University of Michigan.