One of the signs of a healthy charter school sector is whether teachers want to teach in the schools. Teachers are like the canary in a coal mine; if they flock to the school, it's probably doing all right, regardless of the test scores; if they don't, well, perhaps the performance data means more.
So even though charter schools overall perform worse than Ohio's local public schools, perhaps teachers want to teach in them because of the innovative environments they create, regardless of performance data. And if the schools can attract those kinds of teachers, perhaps the performance data will turn around for these schools.
After all, charter schools were started by teachers who wanted to do their thing without as much bureaucratic intervention.
What's fascinating is that in about 15% of Ohio's charter schools, the average teacher experience is 0 years. What's that mean? It means the typical teacher in these schools have never taught before. That's just stunning, frankly. How stunning?
Two of the 3,127 traditional public school buildings that reported teacher data have an average teacher experience of 0 years. There are 59 charters out of the 289 charters that have average teacher experience data listed at the Ohio Department of Education whose average teacher experience is 0. That number could be higher because about 100 dropout recovery charters aren't included in the state's building-level teacher data. So out of Ohio's 3,415 schools that reported teacher data to the state and have average teacher experience of 0 years, all but 2 are charters.
So what that tells us is in many cases, charters are populating their teacher ranks with freshly minted teachers who couldn't find jobs in their local public school districts. In other words, Ohio charters are the stepping stone to a public school job, not the destination.
This is not the case everywhere, though. There are 19 charters with average teacher experience levels that are 10 years or greater, which is about 5% of all charters. About 84% of local school buildings have that level of experience.
In fact, 0 is the most frequently reported average level of teacher experience in an Ohio charter (the mode, for you statistical nerds). For local public school buildings? Try 12. The average level of experience in an Ohio charter is about 6 years. In local public schools, it's about 13.
Much of this, you may say, is driven by pay. The median Ohio charter pays its teachers, on average, $33,905. In a local district building, that's $55,815. However, take the level of experience into account (at this point experience remains the biggest cost driver on teacher salaries) and the numbers don't seem so disparate. The average starting salary in Ohio (remember that Ohio charters are filled with starting teachers) is $33,096. So considering that most teachers in Ohio charters are on the lower end of the experience spectrum, that salary isn't far off. In other words, beginning teachers may actually make about $900 a year more in a charter than the average Ohio district.
And while charter proponents may jump on the fact that charters spend about $1,400 less than local public schools, as I've pointed out in this space, because charters don't pay for busing and are exempt from many regulations, they could spend the same per pupil amount in the classroom as districts, if they would spend what districts do on administration. Instead, charters spend about $1,000 more per student on administrative, non-instructional costs.
I should say that more experience doesn't necessarily mean better teaching. According to Linda Darling-Hammond's work, the evidence indicates that while experience tends to trump inexperience, after about 5 years, the experience factor is far less determinant of teacher quality.
In other words, a 15-year teacher is probably more effective than a first-year teacher. But the performance difference between a 15-year teacher and a 5-year teacher is far less noticeable, if it's there at all.
We see this play out in Ohio's experience. Some of the highest performing charter schools in the state, like Columbus Prep and the Intergenerational School in Cleveland, have an average teacher experience level of 5 years.
However, more unsettling is that 199 of the 289 charters reporting teacher data to the state -- about 70% -- have experience levels less than 5, which means in about 70% of Ohio charter schools, the research tells us that teacher inexperience is likely having an impact on teaching quality. And that could be helping to drive down charter performance.
Ultimately, though, these state teacher data tell us where the destination schools are for teachers -- where they want to be. And in the many cases, it appears that here in Ohio charters are NOT the places they seek. Charters are, instead, their fall back.
Making charters more of a destination for the state's brightest and best teachers should help these teacher experience figures as teachers enter the charter and stay for many years, creating the innovative and awesome teaching environments these schools were originally intended to foster.
Until that happens, it appears that Ohio charters remain fall back options for Ohio's teachers, not the kind of place they want to spend a career. And that's a problem.