Opinion | How Charter Schools Train Teachers

Advocates of school choice sometimes say that a little competition is good for everyone. Case in point: A new analysis suggests that charter schools serve as a proving ground for effective teachers who aren’t yet licensed, but who eventually get poached by traditional public schools.

Three academics crunched years of data on Massachusetts teachers in 1,327 traditional schools and 65 charters. Attrition is substantially higher in the latter, they write in a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research: “In the charter sector, in a given year, 22% of the teacher workforce turns over.”

But these losses aren’t evenly distributed. “Relative to traditional public schools,” the authors say, “charters are more likely to lose both their most and least effective teachers.” While the laggards disproportionately exit the profession, many standouts get licensed and hired by traditional schools, where the pay is typically higher. (Conversely, the study says, “teachers moving from traditional public schools to charter schools are nearly non-existent.”)

The overall dynamic in the data, the authors conclude, can be explained as a bit of “regulatory arbitrage.” At Massachusetts’s traditional public schools, virtually every teacher, 98%, had a license. At charter schools, though, the figures were 82% for English teachers and 80% for math teachers.

“Charter schools tend to hire unlicensed teachers who are ineligible to teach in the public sector,” the authors write. This low barrier to entry offers new teachers an “alternative pathway” into the workforce, allowing them to “explore their taste for teaching before committing to fixed costs (licenses).” Many of the good teachers stick with it. Charter schools therefore “create positive externalities for traditional public schools by increasing the average quality of available teachers.”

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