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Laura Waters

Teacher-Led Schools Succeed Using a Charter Model

An op-ed in the Washington Post features two teacher-run schools, one in St. Paul, Minn., called the Avalon School, and another in Denver called Denver Green School. Both schools boast high student achievement and teacher satisfaction, and both thrive under the autonomy granted by a charter school model (Denver Green School is technically an “innovation” school). Denver Green School, 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 funding than traditional public schools in St. Paul, “outperforms the St. Paul average on most standardized tests and the state average on some.” But the school looks beyond regular testing:
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 percent of Avalon’s students have learning disabilities. In addition, both schools have far higher teacher retention rates than surrounding district schools. Osborne notes:
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.
Even though a recent study suggests that teacher retention could be closer to 70 percent nationally, at Avalon teacher retention on a year-to-year basis averages a whopping 95 percent. That’s because teachers are treated like professionals, personally responsible for accountability, oversight, and student outcomes. Osborne concludes this model provides a way forward for the teaching profession, if the rules allow:
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. 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 percent 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.  
Laura Waters writes about New Jersey education politics and policy for WHYY’s Newsworks, NJ Spotlight and other publications. An earlier version of this post originally appeared on her blog, NJ Left Behind. She is a mother of four and has been a school board member in Lawrence Township, New Jersey, for 10 years.
Laura Waters
Laura Waters writes about New Jersey and New York education policy and politics. As the daughter of New York City educators and parent of a son with special needs, she writes frequently about the need to listen to families and ensure access to good public school options for all. She is based in New Jersey, where she and her husband have raised four children. She recently finished serving 12 years ...

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