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Charter schools are public schools that operate outside of their school district’s purview. Freed of some of the regulatory constraints of traditional public schools, charter schools tend to experiment with curricula, schedules, class sizes, teacher certification and pay. While charter schools offer some advantages, leaving a public school and working at a charter school has disadvantages, as well.
Lower Pay and Benefits
On average, charters pay teachers 10 percent to 15 percent less than traditional schools offer. The exceptions are states with aggressive charter initiatives. Arizona, for example, sets beginning charter teacher pay five percent above salaries for teachers in traditional schools. Teachers at charter schools are also ineligible to contribute to their school district’s pension fund, and many charter schools can’t afford separate retirement plans. Charter schools typically offer fewer benefits, as well. For example, a charter school may pay for a teacher's individual health insurance but not offer family coverage.
Charter schools lack the job security that traditional schools provide. Charter teachers face annual performance reviews and can be fired if student achievement falls short. Educators in conventional schools typically receive tenure after three to five years and can rely on keeping their jobs permanently.
Because charter schools have fewer managers and regulations, all employees, including teachers, must contribute to running the operation. Teachers serve on teams of employees that design ideas for improving the school. That added responsibility often means more hours on the job — sometimes as much as 12 hours a day in a start-up charter. Significant turnover among both teachers and administrators results, with some charters posting turnover of 40 percent, compared with 11 percent at conventional public schools.
Charter schools generally receive roughly 80 percent of the per-student funding that traditional schools enjoy. Many charters don’t have their own buildings and instead open in abandoned office buildings or warehouses. A charter may lack facilities perks such as an auditorium, swimming pools and athletic fields. If charters fail to meet their contractual obligations for student achievement, they could lose their financing and their facilities altogether.
Teaching at a charter school does hold advantages. Charter educators have more flexibility in what and how they teach, and they have a say in decision-making. There’s little bureaucracy standing in the way of immediate changes that can improve classroom instruction and teachers are encouraged to share their ideas on improving the school. Smaller classes prevail at charter schools, which often welcome students who are more committed to their education and parents who are more engaged in their kids’ schoolwork.