Steven Brill's recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Super Teachers Alone Can't Save Our Schools does not look at working conditions deeply enough although he exposes the views of two charter "super teachers."
"I feel overwhelmed, underappreciated and underpaid," a teacher told me one morning at one of the Success Charter Network schools in Harlem. Like KIPP, these are schools whose students consistently top the charts in achievement scores, often testing at or above the level of students in affluent nearby suburbs.
"I work from 7:30 to 5:30 in the building and then go home and work some more," the teacher told me. "I get disrespectful pushback from parents all the time when I try to give their kids consequences. I get feedback from my [supervisors], who demand that I change five or six things by the next day. I think we are doing a great job, so I keep at it. But there is no way I can do this beyond another year or two."
Brill interviewed Success Charter Network school founder, Eva Moskowitz, who advocates scaling "this", without elaborating what "this" is. Moskowitz discusses turnover this way:
"Sure, we have turnover, but our teachers make good money," and "they can advance quickly."
"I have [assistant principals] who are 28 years old and making $100,000 or $120,000, who get six weeks' vacation," Ms. Moskowitz said. "How bad a career path is that?"
How bad a career path is it? Great question. Successful businesses across the nation recognize the importance of working conditions on motivation, productivity, and retention.
Brill reported that Success Charter Network lost one of those super-teacher turned assistant principals because the demands created an "unsustainable" life, both on her health and her marriage. At 28, she walked away to save herself.
KIPP Charter School co-founder Dave Levin believes reform requires ending teacher unions in order to increase the number of "super teachers":
".....if you tore up every union contract in the country, that would just give you the freedom to try…. Then you would have to train and motivate not 70,000 or 80,000 teachers"—the number now teaching in charter schools—"but three million," the approximate number of teachers in American public elementary and secondary schools.
As Mr. Levin explained to me, "You can't do this by depending only on the kinds of exceptional people we have around here who pour themselves into this every hour of every day."
"Every hour of the day????"
Somehow Levin and Moskowitz miss the important and widespread best practices from the business world that acknowledge it takes more than money and 6-weeks vacation to retain talented employees. These charter school leaders express no vision on a teaching environment that retains talent and seem almost cavalier at the level of turnover. There are cost implications when investing in training and losing the talent. So, why are charter schools that have higher turnover rates than public schools and operate like sweat shops considered exemplars for replication at "scale?"
The nation cannot afford 3 million teachers trained and burning out in two years. Taxpayers should not be called upon to fund such a model. Where's the accountability to students, parents, community members, and taxpayers?
UPDATE: The 28 year old assistant principal who left the charter school position found a position in a traditional school, which she found to be more sustainable. Found this detail on Alexander Russo's blog. He says he will be posting an interview he had with Mr. Brill in the next issue of Scholastic Administrator.