Today’s Washington Post features an article about two teacher-run charter schools, one in St. Paul, Minneapolis called the Avalon School and another in Denver called Denver Green School. Both schools boast high student achievement and teacher satisfaction. DGS, writes author David Osborne, ranks the second-highest of five categories, “meets expectations" when compared to all Denver public schools. Avalon, working with 24% less per pupil expenditures than traditional public schools in St. Paul,
outperforms the St. Paul average on most standardized tests and the state average on some. And its teachers value other measures more, such as the quality of senior projects. In a survey of about 125 graduates, 74 percent were in a post-secondary program or had completed one, and 88 percent agreed that their senior project had helped prepare them.
And there's no "creaming" here: 40% of Avalon's students have learning disabilities.
In addition, both charters have far higher teacher retention rates than surrounding district schools. Osborne notes that “Studies show that the average teacher reaches maximum effectiveness after about five years in the classroom. When nearly half of all teachers leave the profession within five years, we are losing talent we desperately need.” But at Avalon, for example, teacher retention on a year-to-year basis averages 95%.
That’s because teachers are treated like professionals, personally responsible for accountability, oversight, and student outcomes. Osborne concludes,
The biggest obstacles to the spread of teacher-run schools are school districts’ central rules, most of which make it impossible to use unusual personnel configurations, alter budgets and make myriad other changes the teacher-run model demands. That’s why so many teacher-run schools are charters — they need autonomy to organize as they please.
Many union leaders love the teacher-run model as much as they hate charters. They constantly argue that teachers should be treated as professionals, and there is no more professional model than a teacher-run school. In Minnesota, in fact, the Federation of Teachers has created an organization to authorize teacher-run charters. In that state, and perhaps in others, this model might carve out some islands of truce in the war between unions and charters.
More important, in an era of resistance to tax increases, most districts can’t solve their teacher-retention problems by raising salaries. Handing teachers more control is probably our best shot at keeping more quality teachers in the classroom.
An advocacy group called Education Evolving polled teachers on their views of teacher-run schools. Despite the anti-charter sentiment of teacher union leaders, 78% of teachers surveyed really like the idea. Perhaps a focus on teacher-run charters is a step towards diminishing the union rancor, offering choice to families, and retaining our best teachers.