Archive for July, 2010

Why Teachers Seek – or Avoid – Jobs in Charter Schools

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

 A new research brief on the NCSC Web site explains findings about how new elementary school teachers decide whether to apply to charter schools when they begin looking for a job. The brief is based on the paper Charter Schools and the Teacher Job Search in Michigan by NCSC associate director Marisa Cannata, which explores the decisions that new teachers make as they move through the job search process.

The study collected responses from new graduates of teacher education programs as they entered the job market, applied for teaching jobs, and decided where to work. It produced several interesting findings:

  • Few prospective teachers give equal consideration to charter schools and traditional public schools. Most teachers in the study avoided charter schools altogether or included them only if positions in traditional public schools were not available.
  • Social and institutional factors influence job applicants’ familiarity with, and openness to, working in charter schools. Prospective teachers favored schools that were familiar and personally relevant (e.g., they had contacts in the schools or lived in communities where such schools were located). Applicants who attended universities that authorized charter schools and who lived in communities with charter schools were more likely to include charters in job searches.
  • Applicants had misconceptions about charter schools’ public/private status and about their missions. Some said charter schools seemed more similar to private entities, making them unappealing to applicants committed to public education, while others thought charter schools served public purposes by educating predominantly low-income students. Prospective teachers who wanted to work in an urban school or who also applied to private schools were more likely to apply to charter schools.
  • Applicants who end up in charter schools earn lower salaries and are less satisfied with their schools. Half the applicants hired by charter schools indicated that they planned to apply for another teaching job at the end of the school year, compared with 15 percent in traditional public schools. Even if these teachers did not follow through, the data suggest that those who landed in charter schools were more likely to wish they worked somewhere else.

The study used surveys, interviews, and binomial logistic regression to investigate why new teachers decide to apply – or not to apply – to charter schools. The researchers conducted a longitudinal survey of 160 applicants and more detailed interviews of a subset of 27 prospective teachers at several points during their job search.  The interviews were coded to identify central themes in applicants’ decision-making and experiences to identify patterns about why they did or did not consider charter schools. Those patterns became the bases for independent variables in a logistic regression model using data from the survey and application to at least one charter school as the outcome variable.

The brief includes a clearly written sidebar explaining the theoretical framework behind the study, labor market segmentation. The theory guides the study’s development of a model for understanding the interaction between teachers’ job searches and institutional structures and informal boundaries (such as social networks and preferences for working in a familiar setting).


Read more about teacher labor markets from the NCSC publications archive.

Teacher Working Conditions and Qualifications in Schools of Choice

The Qualifications and Classroom Performance of Teachers Moving to Charter Schools

Teacher Turnover in Charter Schools

Black Box Project Featured at IES Conference

Thursday, July 1st, 2010


A team of NCSC scholars presented findings from the Opening the Black Box project Wednesday at the Institute of Education Sciences’ Annual Research Conference in Washington. The project is conducting ongoing investigations into which practices and conditions in schools are most associated with positive student achievement gains by linking responses to principal and teacher surveys about their schools to test scores of their students. The study includes thousands of surveys from hundreds of schools, allowing researchers to identify differences between schools of choice and traditional public schools in areas ranging from levels of innovation to teaching practices to characteristics of principals and teachers, and measure how these factors affect student achievement.

The NCSC team shared the 90-minute session with two research groups that recently released high-profile school choice studies: The final report on impacts of the Washington, D.C., voucher program, which was led by researchers from the University of Arkansas, and a multi-state randomized controlled trial of charter schools, led by analysts at Mathematica Policy Research. All papers had produced interesting findings and the presentations generated lively discussion. For the NCSC group, it also facilitated a discussion around how to deal with the methodological challenges surrounding school choice research.

The two other studies in the session included only schools or programs that used lotteries, enabling the researchers to create experimental conditions with students randomly assigned to the treatment or control group based on whether they won a voucher or charter school seat in the lottery. Such conditions are highly desirable because they remove any question of whether the groups differ in some way related to their academic performance – e.g. one group doesn’t perform better because it was chosen by more motivated students, for example. But random assignment is rare in education settings and difficult to do in school choice research unless schools are oversubscribed, forcing researchers to find other ways to remove bias from their analyses. The NCSC team dealt with the problem by matching schools of choice with traditional public schools on specific sets of criteria, including geographic proximity, demographics, and grade level configurations. The team concentrated on finding the best matches possible for each set of criteria to provide comparison groups for an array of research questions.

Feedback at the conference focused on whether defining a “well-matched” pair of schools can be restricted so much that we may miss out on part of what it means to be in a school of choice. For example, only matching charter schools to traditional public schools that are of the same size may be inappropriate given that part of what makes a charter school unique is that they tend to be smaller. This was highlighted by one finding of the DC voucher study that indicated that the effect of winning the voucher lottery on student’s likelihood of graduating from high school was mediated by the fact that the voucher gave students access to smaller schools. Further, the school characteristics that define a well-matched pair may depend on the specific research question or perspective being sought. Examining the choice set available to parents about where to send their child or to teachers when looking for a job may require matching on different criteria than an analysis designed to help policymakers revise school choice laws. A lesson for the project going forward is that while as researchers we will still pursue close matches, the criteria used to create those matches could differ for each study. Watch this blog for more postings about productivity from the Black Box study.

Read papers included in the NCSC presentation:



Learn more about the groundbreaking NCSC study Opening the Black Box in Choice and Regular Public Schools: A Study of What Makes Schools Work

The NCSC is funded by a 5 year, $13.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences. Its lead institution is Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. The center is housed on the campus of Peabody College, one of the nation's top graduate schools of education.