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Do Charter Schools Keep Their Best Teachers and Improve Quality? Retention and Rewards for Teachers in New Orleans

A study by Nathan Barrett, Deven Carlson, Douglas N. Harris, and Jane Arnold Lincove examines the link between teacher quality, retention, and pay in New Orleans.

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Do Charter Schools Keep Their Best Teachers and Improve Quality? Retention and Rewards for Teachers in New Orleans

by Nathan Barrett, Deven Carlson, Douglas N. Harris, Jane Arnold Lincove

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Teach­ers are wide­ly con­sid­ered the most impor­tant fac­tor in school suc­cess. How­ev­er, schools often strug­gle to attract and retain high-per­form­ing teach­ers and to devel­op or remove low-per­form­ing ones. In this study, we con­sid­er whether this is true in New Orleans where almost all schools are char­ters with flex­i­bil­i­ty over per­son­nel poli­cies and prac­tices, and where schools com­pete against one anoth­er and face pres­sure to improve. Specif­i­cal­ly, we com­pared New Orleans to sim­i­lar neigh­bor­ing dis­tricts from 2010 to 2015, using stu­dent test score growth to mea­sure teacher per­for­mance. We draw the fol­low­ing con­clu­sions: Teacher reten­tion is more close­ly relat­ed to teacher per­for­mance in New Orleans than in tra­di­tion­al pub­lic school dis­tricts. Low­er per­form­ing teach­ers in New Orleans are 2.5 times more like­ly to leave their school than high-per­form­ing teach­ers, com­pared with only 1.9 times in sim­i­lar neigh­bor­ing dis­tricts. The stronger link between reten­tion and per­for­mance might imply that teacher qual­i­ty would improve faster in New Orleans than in sim­i­lar dis­tricts. How­ev­er, this is not the case. The dif­fer­ence in aver­age teacher per­for­mance between New Orleans and com­par­i­son dis­tricts remained essen­tial­ly unchanged between 2010 and 2015. This is appar­ent­ly because of the larg­er share of new teach­ers in New Orleans, whose low­er qual­i­ty rough­ly off­sets the city’s advan­tages in retain­ing high­er per­form­ing teach­ers. * The stronger reten­tion-per­for­mance link in New Orleans is some­what relat­ed to finan­cial rewards, though not in a way that is like­ly to increase the over­all qual­i­ty of teach­ing. We find that high­er per­form­ing teach­ers only receive pay increas­es when they switch schools, which may increase teacher turnover. High-per­form­ing teach­ers do not receive rais­es for per­for­mance when they stay in the same school. These find­ings high­light the com­plex­i­ties of poli­cies intend­ed to increase the qual­i­ty of teach­ing. Increased teacher account­abil­i­ty might improve teacher per­for­mance, but it also cre­ates more job uncer­tain­ty for teach­ers and seems to give them less auton­o­my over their day-to-day work. This can affect the num­ber and types of teach­ers who seek to work in char­ter schools and could push teach­ers of all per­for­mance lev­els to exit the pro­fes­sion or trans­fer to oth­er schools. Giv­en that teach­ing expe­ri­ence pos­i­tive­ly affects stu­dent achieve­ment, this trade-off is prob­lem­at­ic. Indeed, even with New Orleans’ advan­tages in retain­ing qual­i­ty teach­ers and in improv­ing teacher qual­i­ty, it will like­ly be dif­fi­cult for the city’s schools to improve over time with a high rate of teacher turnover and, result­ing, low aver­age teacher expe­ri­ence levels.

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