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Education Innovation
Is High Teacher Turnover a Problem?

Perhaps not, according to the NYT‘s latest piece on Success Academy, a network of charter schools in New York City that serves mainly lower-income minority groups (previous coverage here and here). The network is most notable for its students’ high pass rates on state exams. In New York City in 2o14, “29 percent of public school students passed the state reading tests, and 35 percent passed the math tests.” At Success, the rates were 64 percent and 94 percent, respectively.

Even schools with remarkable figures like this have their critics, and among their complaints about this model is its high rate of teacher turnover. But wait—that may not be such a bad thing:

The high-pressure atmosphere at Success leads to substantial teacher turnover, though the precise rate is unclear. According to the latest school report cards, in 2013-14 three Success schools had turnover rates above 50 percent, meaning more than half the teachers from the previous year did not stay.

But Success officials said that these figures are inflated by the number of teachers who move from one Success school to another, or to nonteaching positions within the network. According to its own numbers, attrition from the network from June 2013 to June 2014 was 17 percent. By comparison, attrition from the city’s public school system in 2013-14 was 6.1 percent, according to the Department of Education.

Still, current and former employees said departures were common.

The piece does depict Success Academy as a highly demanding, competitive work environment; teachers are not unionized and work long hours. If they do well, however—that is, if their students do well—they can be promoted quickly, and even become a principal early in their career. Those who leave seem to have good prospects in other careers.

More importantly, the idea that teaching should be a lifelong career protected and underwritten by unions should be questioned more often. A “promote or leave” attitude could help schools identify teachers who have the skill and passion to stay in the profession for the long term, and also keep new blood running through the system. Success has found a way to mix high turnover with effective results capably staffing its growing number of schools. That model ought to be evaluated fairly for its merits as well as its flaws—not dismissed because it doesn’t fit the expected pattern in public schools.

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  • Nicholas Tampio

    Good schools have high teacher retention, among other reasons, to forge relationships with students and serve as mentors and letter writers for college.

    The Success Academy turns children, according to its director of instruction, into “little test taking machines.” That is not what selective colleges are looking for, nor is it what many educated parents want for their own children. (

    Might this blog have presented both sides of the story?

    • Josephbleau

      Students who are “test taking machines” are exactly what the most selective schools want. That is why Asians are so over represented in selective universities. Does the SAT, MCAT and GRE matter? Selective schools recruit the most well rounded students in the 99% SAT percentile. In the US children are given excess leisure and probably don’t stack up internationally but the US university system is the dream of the world (except for France and Germany, who channel students at 16 years old into their future careers and can have very mature able 18 year old math/physics students with no cranky ones who strive above their defined level). Japanese kids want to get into U Tokyo to party and network for 4 years, after learning the curriculum in high school. US kids fool off in relatively stupid high schools and work hard in College, (at least the 20% of the population who should really be there, leaving the other 30% to take Studies programs.)

      There is nothing wrong in being a test taking machine, all successful higher ed students are, or they would flunk out, tests are the only measure in University, and over 1500 years, tests really work.

  • Andrew Allison

    I’m absolutely appalled that bad teachers get flushed faster from Charter schools, which apparently place more attention on teaching ability than incumbency, than from public schools [sarcasm alert].

  • Anthony

    It’s been a while, but I recall that the responsibilities of school leadership (elementary level) are best understood when viewed within organizational context. Upon reading Post, one can get impression that Success Academy is highly structured and efficient vis-a-vis learning outcomes (school as machine). In other circumstances, as has been alluded to by another commenter, these tightly coupled, policy-driven organizations may stifle teacher initiative and organizational creativity which may induce (among other factors) turnover. Organizations such as Success Academy may not be model for parents/students looking for less management while expecting standards and accountability – Schools as Machines, Schools as Organisms, Schools as Brains.

  • mdmusterstone

    Teachers leave schools when they find themselves being made
    into robots teaching youngsters to robotically do well on “the test”;
    the real question being what is the retention level in five years? My doctor’s daughter who just went into
    teaching related that if her daily plan says spelling at 10:30 and the principal walks in to find any other area of
    instruction, no matter how exciting the present educational exchange might be,
    she’s in trouble. No one, no one, goes
    into education for that kind of lock down.

    As far as I can see Common Core institutes the same kind of
    drivers. This is not education, this is
    training. The difference between
    training and education is that training prepares you against surprise,
    education prepares you for surprise e.g. Dr. Fleming.

    But if our schools are so dysfunctional (PISA gives a
    different view), educate so poorly before college how do any of these kids get
    through a course of higher education and what’s more why do tens of thousands
    of foreigners send their children here to college, why not China, Finland,
    etc.? Oh, but of course they send their
    sons here to get blind drunk for four years and their daughters raped, what
    other possible reason could there be?

    • fastrackn1

      “why do tens of thousands of foreigners send their children here to college, why not China, Finland, etc.?”

      Because the US is looked upon as the greatest place on earth for most other countries. They think money is laying in the streets here. Also, a US degree carries the most weight when applying for a job in a 3rd-world country, which is where most immigrants who school here originate from.
      I can speak first hand about this because I have been to many other countries, and my wife is also from overseas.

    • Albert8184

      Because Finland and China aren’t operating state-controlled degree mills of the ponzi scheme methodology.
      The foreigners come here to get EDUCATED. They don’t come here to waste the opportunity, for the most part. The native party crowds on the other hand, tend to be overgrown infants. The majority of the non-Ivy leaguers will end up in retail or some other irrelevant profession. But give China a chance. As the West is eclipsed into irrelevancy, Asia may wind up being the new center of the world.

  • FriendlyGoat

    Why do we want a teacher whose students do well to be promoted out of the classroom to principal? Those are completely different skill sets. A teacher who is doing well should be promoted IN the classroom, and without having to run off somewhere to get another degree level. (They didn’t make Miss Beadle do that on Little House on The Prairie, after all, in order to appreciate her.)

    It’s hard not to be suspect of a 50% turnover rate being “argued down” to 17%, but who knows?

  • mdmusterstone

    There is so much disinformation, so much political twisting
    of facts or other facts obscured for politically
    correct reasons, “the narrative”,
    that it is difficult to know what to do or even where to begin.

    If you want the straight of it read “Real
    Education” by Charles Murray. It’s
    less than 200 pages and can be read in an evening.

    Education isn’t the great mystery it’s made out to be. Haven’t you noticed that every few years
    there is a new Silver Bullet that will take care of everything; enough of these
    having been handed out to embarrass the even Lone Ranger. And puzzle me this, between the last of the
    Nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth the American school
    systems produced a dozen or more world class intellectual giants in several
    fields without even… even… having a computer for every child.

    • Albert8184

      Each new Silver Bullet is the same progressive educrat agenda item, in support of the same UN inspired globalist education programme, initiated in America by GB 1 as “Goals 2000”.

      It’s not education anymore. Across the board, all over the West, it is RE-education. Academics takes a back seat to proper thinking, and learning curriculum is only a vehicle for “getting the kids thinking about real issues”.

  • Boritz

    High teacher turnover is another indicator that the war on drugs is failing.

  • fastrackn1

    The high rate of teacher turnover is because the teachers are used to the cushy, can’t-get-fired atmosphere of the public school system. When they are really put to the test they become overwhelmed and give up.
    It seems like ‘natural selection’ to me…the strong survive to better the species….

    • Albert8184

      They can’t get fired? Okay. But they quit faster than they get fired. My wife lasted 6 months in the private school. Ask me why.

      • fastrackn1


        • Albert8184

          The main reasons are burnout, working conditions, pay and layoffs. My wife saw the reality within 1 semester, and with my encouragement, she opted for the private school route.

          • fastrackn1

            Well, I support the Charter School method no matter how many teachers get burned out of it. The Blue Model method of teaching and teacher unions has proved to be a failure, so lets see where the Charter School method takes us over the next generation…could it be any worse than the Blue Model?
            Maybe the high-intensity Charter School atmosphere will, over time, attract a new type of personality to the teaching field that can better withstand a high pressure workplace. More of an ‘achiever’ type of personality instead of the ‘those who can do, those who can’t – teach’, type of personality that plagues the teaching field now. Students might find an ‘achiever’ personality to be more motivating.
            I know I would have….

          • Albert8184

            Are you using “Blue Model” in the same way that one might use the term when discussing the socioeconomic model of America after the New Deal era? It sounds as though you are using the term in the sense of an education philosophy that would undergird that social arrangement.

          • fastrackn1

            I think ‘Blue Model mentality’ would have been a clearer way for me to express my point.

          • Albert8184

            Right. But given that as your meaning then, I would hesitate to call today’s progressive dominated education system a “Blue Model” mentality. It is anything but Blue Model. But, it could be that we’re confusing neo-cons and Third Way with conservative or crony capitalist?

          • fastrackn1

            The underpinnings of the strong unions that have created a culture of self-entitlement that runs rampant throughout the educational and other public systems are based on the Blue Model.

          • Albert8184

            I could be wrong, but I don’t believe that’s the case looking at the history of unions in America.

  • Kevin

    Teacher turnover is an irrelevant metric. It measure process, not outcome (assuming the primary goal of the educational system is educating students well and not creating happy teachers). Measuring educational success is somewhat challenging, but even more actually achieving educational success consistently among disadvantaged students is quite difficult – so there is an inevitable tenancy to focus on measuring process or, even worse, inputs when evaluating education. However this is quite pernicious, as we end up trying to improve the input and process metrics and in doing so break their correlation to positive outcomes.

    • Albert8184

      Teacher turnover tells you a lot about what’s going on in the schools with the “process”.

      • Kevin

        It’s just not clear what… Does it mean they have a demoralized teacher corps who are fleeing? Or that they are recruiting a very young highly educated demographic who face a growing list of attractive opportunities as their skills grow and work history lengthens? My argument us we should judge them based on outcomes to sort out whether their plan is working.

        • Albert8184

          I’m an insider. The main reasons are burnout, working conditions, pay and layoffs. As far as “outcomes”… you should always remember that progressives and liberals NEVER gauge success by “outcomes”. They gauge success by their level of adherence to ideological templates. AND – you also have to consider that the educrats may not have the same agenda that “ordinary folks” have, when it comes to measuring “success”.

  • mdmusterstone

    Check this out. Students at charter school wetting their pants because they weren’t allowed to go to the bathroom or were afraid to go. But by God they passe those tests.

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