Report: NYC Charters Perform Well, Must Battle Staff Churn

According to a report by the New York City Charter School Center, the city’s charter schools are experiencing excessively high turnover rates for principals — with nearly 20% leaving their jobs every year. The Center analyzed the employment data from the city’s 136 operating charters which serve about 4% of the city’s students.

Despite staffing difficulties, the report found that charters improve the math and literacy results of their students, and although the overall number of the schools is fairly small, at least 25 more are scheduled to open this September and the Center projects that by 2017, 10% of the NYC students will be enrolled in a charter school.

The new report also validates some of the issues raised by charter school critics, such as that charters enroll a lower percentage of “difficult” students like those with special needs or those needing ESL assistance. These arguments don’t seem to be swaying the parents, however, as the report also finds that there are five applicants competing for every charter school slot.

Like previous studies by researchers at Stanford, the center’s report praises the city’s charters for their students’ positive results on the state math and English tests, which are taken annually by third through eighth graders. Last year, 69 percent of charter school students scored at the “proficient” level or higher in math, compared with 57 percent of students in traditional public schools. On the English exam, the charter school students came out ahead, but not by much.

Still, in order for the charter school movement to grow, the schools will have to take steps to decrease staff churn. The center found that a third of the teachers leave charters every year, which is significantly higher than the 15% who annually depart New York’s traditional public schools. James Merriman, the center’s director was at a loss to explain the high staff attrition, which also includes 18% of charter principals who left their jobs in 2011. The rate of the staff turnover also surprised the founder of the New York City Charter Schools Parent Association Mona Davids. Davids’ organization supports introduction of charters into the NYC school district but is frequently critical of how the schools are managed and run.

“I’m really surprised at their honesty,” she said of the center’s analysis, but the fact that teachers and principals “jump ship so often makes me question the sustainability of charters.”

The report also examined if there’s any justification behind the accusations that the success of charter schools has a lot to do with their student body selection criteria. The data shows that charter schools have less than half of the non-English-fluent students enrolled in their classes than do traditional district schools.

Last year, about 6 percent of charter school students were English language learners, compared with 15 percent in traditional schools.

As more high school charters open throughout the city, another growing concern is how successful they’ll be graduating college-ready students. Currently, students graduating from the seven charter high schools greatly lag their peers in SAT scores, regents exams results and general college-readiness. By the standards laid down by the school district, only 10% of charter graduates were considered sufficiently prepared to enroll in an institution of higher education, versus 27% of their public-school educated cohorts.