Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Teacher Working Conditions in Charter Schools

Research suggests that charter schools have much higher teacher turnover rates than traditional public schools (TPS). Teachers in charter schools are more likely to transfer to another school or leave the profession altogether when compared to their TPS colleagues. Since teachers’ perceptions of in-school working conditions have an important influence on their willingness to remain at a school, it is important to understand whether and how charter schools influence teacher working conditions.

In theory, it is possible to argue either more or less supportive workplace conditions for teachers in charter schools compared to TPSs. On the one hand, charter schools are autonomous and enjoy substantial flexibility in hiring teachers who are committed to a school’s instructional mission and help establish collaborative school environments. Also, charter school teachers tend to have more discretion to innovate educational programs and collectively participate in decisions regarding school design and organization. On the other hand, many charter schools are not bound by collective bargaining agreements. Without the union’s protection in areas such as workload, salaries and benefits, and due process rules, charter school teachers may experience more stress and doubts than teachers in unionized TPSs.

Empirical evidence comparing teacher working conditions in charters and TPSs is limited. Based on surveys in Colorado, a study finds that charter and TPS teachers perceive similar levels of collegiality and sense of shared missions. While charter school teachers exert more influence over classroom-related issues, they have the same or less influence on school governance and policies than their peers in TPSs. Another study compares the weekly hours worked by charter and TPS teachers and found little difference nationwide.

Using data from the
Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), my study compares working conditions in charter schools and TPSs. I find that charter school teachers report substantially more influence in school-wide policies but heavier workloads than TPS teachers. Other than that, teachers in both charter schools and TPSs perceive similar levels of principal leadership, sense of community and collegiality, classroom autonomy, opportunities for professional development, and adequacy of instructional supplies. The findings support previous research that, although charter school teachers have greater influence in school policies, the decision-making processes seem to significantly adds to teachers’ workload. Also, the autonomy in charter schools does not necessarily foster changes regarding classroom instruction, professional development, and teacher collaboration that are more closely related to student learning.

Among all charter schools, I find district-granted charter schools tend to provide more supportive working environments than charter schools granted by other organizations, including state boards of education and postsecondary institutions. Compared to TPSs, teachers in district-granted charter schools perceive more power in school-wide decision making but similar workloads. It implies that autonomy and workload are not necessarily in conflict: it is possible to empower teachers in decision making and avoid overworking them at the same time. Since the designation of which organizations are authorized to grant charters is defined by individual state’s laws, the results also imply that state policy can have some indirect influence over charter school working conditions.

Given the existing literature that supportive working conditions increase teacher satisfaction and reduce teacher turnover rates, an important next step is to examine what aspects of working conditions matter most to charter school teachers as they make decisions about their careers. In addition, due to the finding that district-granted charter schools tend to provide more supportive teaching working conditions than other types of charter schools, further research is needed to explore how different authorizers affect working conditions for teachers.

Further readings:

Gawlik, M. A. (2007). Beyond the charter schoolhouse door: Teacher-perceived autonomy. Education and Urban Society, 39(4), 524–553.
Johnson, S. M., & Landman, J. (2000). “Sometimes bureaucracy has its charms”: The working conditions of teachers in deregulated schools. Teachers College Record, 102(1), 85–124.
Malloy, C. L., & Wohlstetter, P. (2003). Working conditions in charter schools: What's the appeal for teachers? Education and Urban Society, 35(2), 219–241.

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