An Unexpected Charter School Effect: Fewer Experienced Teachers

As young teachers leave charter schools after a few years to pursue another career, is it creating a huge hole in the profession of teaching?

An Unexpected Charter School Effect: Fewer Experienced Teachers
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The sweeping education reforms of recent years-–the biggest in a decade–have been primarily in the areas of testing and curricula. The “Common Core” courses have been adopted by 45 states for math and language, and in more than 40 states, testing has been linked directly to teacher evaluations.


But perhaps even more controversial has been the rise of charter schools. Fourteen states have passed laws allowing more of them, and now the New York Times’ Motoko Rich reports on one consequence of a charter school future: younger, less-experienced teachers.

Tyler Dowdy just started his third year of teaching at YES Prep West, a charter school here. He figures now is a good time to explore his next step, including applying for a supervisory position at the school.

Mr. Dowdy is 24 years old, which might make his restlessness seem premature. But then, his principal is 28. Across YES Prep’s 13 schools, teachers have an average of two and a half years of experience.

Charter chains KIPP and Success have average teacher careers hovering in the four year range, compared to 14 years in traditional public schools. This, along with the retirement of baby boomers, is largely why more than a quarter of all teachers now have fewer than six years of experience, according to an analysis by researcher Richard Ingersoll at the University of Pennsylvania. Teaching, it seems, is more and more an entry-level position to other industries, rather than a lifelong career.

The subtext of the New York Times article is that the result of this trend is much what you would expect. “Charter leaders say they are able to sustain rapid turnover in teaching staff because they prepare young recruits and coach them as they progress,” Rich writes. But to illustrate that, she brings the reader along with Melanie Singleton, a 27-year-old principal at a YES-brand charter school in Houston, making her rounds:

Observing two first-year math teachers, she noticed that both were reviewing place values with sixth graders. “We might not be pushing them as rigorously as we can at this point,” she said. And when one teacher exhorted her students to give themselves a celebratory chant, Ms. Singleton corrected the teacher’s instructions. “I have to interrupt,” Ms. Singleton said. “It’s two claps and then a sizzle.”

Two claps and then a sizzle: The future of education in America.

About the author

Stan Alcorn is a print, radio and video journalist, regularly reporting for WNYC and NPR. He grew up in New Mexico.