by Kathleen M. McGree

Teacher Roles and Responsibilities

By virtually eliminating administrative positions, charter schools have created greater opportunities for teachers to become involved in all aspects of school decision-making. Teachers have been asked to make administrative decisions, develop curriculum, work with parents, and in a few cases, even perform school maintenance tasks. These new opportunities and responsibilities, however, have often come at the expense of compensation.

Salary and benefits
Although charter school teachers are clearly investing additional amounts of time and energy, studies show they are not always being financially compensated for it. In Minnesota, only one charter school follows the salary schedule for the district in which it is located. The other charter schools either pay experienced and inexperienced teachers the same flat rate (e.g., $20,000), or pay inexperienced teachers a salary comparable to that of other beginning teachers in the district, but pay experienced teachers considerably less than their district counterparts. Moreover, some teachers have sacrificed retirement benefits and, in a few cases, comprehensive medical coverage to be part of a charter school faculty (Minnesota House of Representatives, 1994).

Currently, low teacher salaries and small administrative staffs are necessary to maintain one of charter schools' most celebrated benefits: low student-teacher ratios. This may not, however, be an effective long-term strategy for the creation of stable, high-quality schools. Over time, keeping personnel costs at relatively low levels could prove problematic; and if they do rise, low student-teacher ratios and other such charter school benefits could disappear. (Minnesota House of Representatives, 1994).

Job security
Where charter schools are more autonomous, some concerns have surfaced about job security. Although many states require districts to grant teachers a leave of absence to work in charter schools, in some cases the leave is only temporary and, in at least one, it is negotiable. For example, in Massachusetts, teachers can obtain a leave of absence to work in a charter school for up to four years but at the end of the period must decide whether to return to or resign from the district. In California, each individual charter has jurisdiction over employment and staffing issues and thus the rights of teachers to return to a district must be negotiated by the charter school and the district.

Job security is less of a concern in states where charter schools are not granted legal autonomy. In these states, teachers who choose to work in charter schools remain district employees and therefore experience no change in job tenure or district benefits.

Teacher professionalism
There are those, including some local teachers' union affiliates and public school educators, who oppose charter schools on the grounds that they can undermine teacher professionalism. In addition to lower salaries and decreased job security, more than half of all charter school laws either do not require the use of certified teachers or allow teacher certification requirements to be waived. By permitting the hiring of uncertified and often inexperienced teachers, charter schools may help perpetuate the myth that teaching does not require professional preparation and development.

Next Page: Funding and Assistance

Published in Insights on Educational Policy, Practice, and Research Number 5, July 1995, Charter Schools: Early Learnings (Comparison of Charter School Legislation)