Teachers’ Experiences with the Transition to a Charter School from a Traditional Public School
Charter schools are generally defined as public schools that are operated independently from many district and state regulations, which affect traditional and mainstream public schools. Forty out of fifty states in the United States of America, along with the District of Columbia, have created various legislations aimed towards the establishment, operation, and accountability of charter schools (Hausman & Goldring, 2009; Hoxby, 2003; Malloy & Wollhester, 2003; Podgursky, 2004; Smith & Ingersoll, 2004). Charter programs represent a new and competitive branch of public education, which has been characterized by the autonomy, which is absent in mainstream schools (Bullough, Kauchak, Crow, Hobbs, & Stokes, 2000). These characteristics have been considered paramount in forcing good teachers away from the mainstream (Finn, Manno, & Vancerek, 2000). Proliferation of charter schools into the educational system is considered extremely important in terms of enhancing competition in the field of education (Chubb et al., 2006). Proponents of the charter school system believe that competition between traditional public schools and charter schools will improve the quality of education (Finn, Manno, & Vancerek, 2000; Hoxby, 2003).
Hausman & Goldring state, “charter schools seek to produce high achievement value of effective teachers” (2009, p. 11). Charter schools are also described as heterogeneous, focusing on special needs of students. In this regard, there is a tendency of failure risk for other targeted students (Smith & Ingersoll, 2004).
As such, recruitment and retention of high quality teachers is considered to be difficult for those who cater for the needs of special groups (Hausman & Goldring, 2009). Recent research reveals that there is a tendency for teachers to prefer high performing and socioeconomically advantaged school environments (Malloy & Wollhester, 2003). It is in this regard there is an increased shift of teachers from traditional public schools to charter public ones (Hoxby, 2003).
There is an idea that teacher prefer to be employed by charter schools and it has been brought about by higher pay (Carruthers, 2005). Charter schools are not bound by salary levels set in a particular state. Instead, they may divide their budgets based on their own considerations (Balnaves & Caputi, 2001). Charter schools provide their teachers with a possibility to be more creative as well as they give teachers more autonomy in order to increase the quality of education (Podgursky, 2004; Smith & Ingersoll, 2004). Undeniably, advocates of the charter school system consider professionalization and teacher empowerment to be paramount in ensuring development of the system (Finn, Manno, & Vancerek, 2000). Movement of teachers from traditional public schools to charter schools has been steadily increasing due to the fact that the latter provide them with both tangible and non-tangible benefits (Malloy & Wollhester, 2003; Smith & Ingersoll, 2004).
However, teachers face numerous challenges upon their transfer from traditional public schools to charter schools. Nevertheless, experiences of teachers who transferred from traditional public schools to charter schools have been influenced by the increase in their effectiveness and better professional opportunities (Finn, Manno, & Vancerek, 2000). Moreover, their experiences have also been influenced by the difference in terms of measures. For example, experiences of teachers who transferred from traditional public schools to charter schools have been shaped by the increased desire to provide effective study process, which created more new opportunities to learn from other teachers' experience.
However, most of the studies reviewed for this research (Malloy & Wollhester, 2003; Podgursky, 2004; Smith & Ingersoll, 2004) showed that teachers who transferred from traditional public schools reported some negative experiences related to the working conditions and, job satisfaction and salary. Those negative experiences contributed to their dissatisfaction (Malloy & Wollhester, 2003). Such dissatisfaction has been attributed to some factors related to remuneration of work such as salaries, benefits, working hours, etc. (Podgursky, 2004; Smith & Ingersoll, 2004). Dissatisfaction with the above mentioned factors must be addressed properly in order to improve the teachers' experience of transferring from traditional public schools to charter schools and make it more positive (Malloy & Wollhester, 2003; Podgursky, 2004). lity of charter schools.
Rationale for the Local Problem and the Purpose of the Study
As it was mentioned previously, establishment of charter schools has been considered advantageous in many respects (Finn, Manno & Vancerek, 2000; Podgursky, 2004). For instance, it has been mentioned that charter schools contributed to the improvement of the overall quality of education. Establishment of charter schools is considered of utmost importance for improvement of academic achievement of academically disadvantaged students (Finn, Manno, & Vancerek, 2000; Hoxby, 2003). Charter schools have emphasized the importance of attracting top teacher talent to ensure achievement of the abovementioned goals (Malloy & Wollhester, 2003; Smith & Ingersoll, 2004).
Chartered schools failed to recruit and retain the best teachers because of their tendency to disregard various important aspects of recruitment, compensation, working conditions, etc. (Bulkley & Fisler, 2003; Hoxby, 2003; Struit & Smith, 2010). Various researchers have considered these failures to be paramount in determining whether or not teachers will enter or remain in their positions (Miron & Applegate, 2007).
Recent research (Finn, Manno, & Vancerek, 2000; Hoxby, 2003) conducted on the subject suggest that charter school teachers also exhibit certain characteristics that are associated with low level of effectiveness (Finn, Manno, & Vancerek, 2000; Hoxby, 2003). Classroom experience may be a contributing factor, which has not been considered important in ensuring teachers' effectiveness in charter schools (Malloy & Wollhester, 2003). The purpose of this research is to evaluate the factors which determine the challenges faced by the teachers after transferring from traditional public to charter schools. The study will also seek to determine whether the circumstances faced by the transferred teachers are conducive to their professional development, as well as comprehend the character of teachers’ characteristics for retention in charter schools. Proceeding from the results of this analysis, an evaluation of the comparative efficiency of teaching in traditional and charter schools may be offered.
Review of Literature Addressing the Problem
Recent increase in popularity of charter schools has resulted in mass shifts of public school teachers to this new system. Due to some differences in the ways of educating children in charter and public schools, teachers transiting from traditional schools need to adjust to charter system demands. The differences are as follows: innovation in learning creative ways; school programs and activities aim to connect students to the instructors, etc. The transition is expected to be problematic, and challenges that teachers encounter in this regard need further research (Miron & Applegate, 2007). This section of the paper discusses several concepts, which include the concept of transition, the concept of charter and public schools, and associated experiences and problems that transitioned teachers encounter. The conclusions made by this research will be shaped by several variables (both dependent and independent). The chosen independent variables for the paper are working conditions offered by charter schools, including the load of work, salary level, autonomy changes, and decision-making. Dependent variables are different experiences (both positive and negative) that teachers have in a real-life setting of charter schools after the transition from a traditional school.
While literature and studies conducted during last few years discuss risks and benefits of charter schools, there are few scientific papers devoted to the discussion of real outcomes and challenges of teachers’ transiting from traditional public schools to charter ones (Miron & Applegate, 2007). This important side of the issue in question may reveal the nature of charter schools and their major differences from traditional schools from the perspective of educators, who are direct participants in the educational process.
The model shows the relationship between variables (both dependent and independent), determines the direction of the study, and identifies the need for further research as an anticipated result of this investigation. It is shown that the gap between both types of schools is huge including difference in packages, teaching types, chances to show skills, work load, working conditions, etc.
The conceptual framework was formed based on international statistics (RPP, 2000), survey study by Miron & Applegate (2007), and insights provided by Vanourek (2005), Smith & Ingersoll (2004), and Bomotti (2009). Some pedagogical theories used in the conceptual framework of the research include Behavioral Learning Theory introduced by Watson (1913), Skinner (1984), and Staats (1963), Cognitive Learning Theory represented by Mandler (2002), Social Learning Theory of Bandura (1977), Inductive and Deductive Approaches and the Brain-Based Learning Theory by Wolf (2010); and Constructivism Approach offered by Piaget (1926), Bruner (1980), and Vygotsky (1962). The theorists of behavioral learningbelieve that learning occurs together with changes in behavior.The model of behavioral learning is the conditioning result. Reinforcement is considered to be the behaviorist approach core. Theorists of cognitive learning believe that learning is an internal process where information is internalized or integrated into one’s intellectual or cognitive structure.Learning occurs through internal information processing. Inductive and deductive approaches are two sides of a coin. Deduction presupposes rule-based learning, where a rule directs the different conclusion logic. Induction includes recognizing and synthesizing patterns from different facts. Constructivism Approach includes situated learning, generative learning, authentic instruction, educational semiotic and postmodern curricula.
Behaviorists tend to focus mostly on observable aspects of learning that are reflected in human behavior. They perceived learning as another way to acquire new behavioral patterns by means of conditioning, which is divided into two types: classical and operant conditioning (Piaget, 1926). Cognitive and social learning theory explains that the learning process is significantly affected by the mindset of an individual. It also suggests paying attention to tendencies instead of separate events. Supporters of the above mentioned theories assume that learning is possible only in terms of social context (Vygotsky, 1962). As a result, learning outcomes are significantly influenced by social conditions. The importance of it is the inductive and deductive learning, in particular, neuroscience-based explanation of learning as a biological process inside the human brain (Staats, 1968).
Therefore, this research takes into consideration several different approaches to teaching and includes their most important elements in the conceptual framework. Since various views of different researchers (representatives of both classical and modern schools of learning and teaching) are included, the theoretical framework used in this paper is trustworthy and can be considered as appropriate for the study.
Various studies and researches (Carruthers, 2005; Boe, Sunderland & Cook, 2011; Carruthers, 2005; Hausman & Goldring, 2009; Smith & Ingersoll, 2004) have been conducted in the attempt to describe experiences of teachers in charter schools following their transfer from traditional public schools. Contemporary literature is focusing on the question whether charter schools follow the traditional learning process, or whether teachers are being taught new teaching methods and approaches. Carruthers (2005) focused attention on the same question, mainly a panel of public teachers from North Carolina. She discovered patterns of teacher quality flowing into charter schools. Nevertheless, it has been discovered that while there are traditional public teachers who possess documentation and certificates of their qualifications to teach in charter public schools, these qualifications are merely stated on paper and are not evident in actual life experiences (Boe, Sunderland, & Cook, 2011; Carruthers, 2005; Hausman & Goldring, 2009; Smith & Ingersoll, 2004).
Many teachers have transferred from traditional mainstream schools to charter schools because of associated advantages. For example, more teachers prefer working in charter public schools because of the degree of autonomy allowed (Bifulco & Ladd, 2006; Hausman & Goldring, 2009; Podgursky, 2004). Thus, charter public schools give teachers more freedom with respect to the choice of lessons and pedagogies (Bifulco & Ladd, 2006; Podgursky, 2004; Struit & Smith, 2010). It makes teachers in traditional public schools think about the employment in charter schools (Bifulco & Ladd, 2006; Hausman & Goldring, 2009; Miron & Applegate, 2007; Smith & Ingersoll, 2004).
Various researchers (Bifulco & Ladd, 2006; Hausman & Goldring, 2009; Miron & Applegate, 2007; Smith & Ingersoll, 2004) have pointed that traditional public school teachers transferring to charter schools tend to experience various problems with the structure of charter schools (Bifulco & Ladd, 2006; Bullough et al., 2000; Hoxby, 2003; Miron & Applegate, 2007; Smith & Ingersoll, 2004). In fact, teachers' experiences in charter schools resulted in higher turnovers (Boe, Sunderland, & Cook, 2011; Struit & Smith, 2010). There exists a substantial body of research that showed that there is a tendency for administrators to fire most of teachers from traditional public schools just because they fail to comply with organizational requirements and structures (Bifulco & Ladd, 2006; Herbert & Ramsay, 2004; Hoxby, 2003; Miron & Applegate, 2007; Struit & Smith, 2010). However, it is only a misimpression.
Dissatisfaction of teachers coming from traditional public schools and transferring to charter schools with working conditions is largely attributed to work hours. However, charter schools have incorporated changes in school year as well as in their weekly schedules (Bifulco & Ladd, 2006; Bulkley & Fisler, 2003; Herbert & Ramsay, 2004). These changes have then resulted in a situation where teachers employed in charter schools work beyond 182 days. In all traditional public schools this is the normal number days of an academic year (Boe, Sunderland, & Cook, 2011; Malloy & Wollhester, 2003). In addition, there is also a tendency for charter schools to change their daily and weekly schedules thereby showing that there is a significant difference between instructional days which are shorter and less in number in charter schools as compared to traditional public schools (Bifulco & Ladd, 2006; Herbert & Ramsay, 2004; Smith & Ingersoll, 2004).
There was also a tendency for charter school teachers to work more hours per week (Bullough et al., 2000; Struit & Smith, 2010). In this regard, this has contributed to negative experiences of teachers transiting from traditional public schools (Malloy & Wollhester, 2003). Apparently, those who are employed in traditional public schools work 37.8 hours, which is slightly less than those employed at charter schools, working 39.5 hours (Bullough et al., 2000). However, research revealed that negative experiences of teachers who transferred from traditional public schools to charter schools were caused by the fact that those schools expected their teachers to work until they complete their daily tasks rather than adhering strictly to the length of work days, which means that they are not unionized (Bulkley & Fisler, 2003).
However, charter school teachers are generally satisfied with their teaching because of factors such as respect for autonomy among colleagues (Smith & Ingersoll, 2004). Nevertheless, they are generally dissatisfied with various aspects of working conditions, specifically salaries and benefits, facilities, and charter schools workloads (Bulkley & Fisler, 2003; Malloy & Wollhester, 2003). In some states studies conducted in charter schools showed that teachers expressed concerns with respect to inadequacy of facilities and insufficient resources used for instruction (Bulkley & Fisler, 2003; Bullough et al., 2000; Hausman & Goldring, 2009; Herbert & Ramsay, 2004; Smith & Ingersoll, 2004). Also, charter school teachers are dissatisfied with heavy workload and lack of job security (Boe, Sunderland, & Cook, 2011; Malloy & Wollhester, 2003).
This study aims to explore the experiences of teachers who transferred from public schools to charter schools. In this study all factors and problems that a teacher is likely to face will be examined. More specifically, this research attempts to answer the following questions:
- What influences teachers decision to move from public school employment to charter school employment?
- What difficulties do teachers face when they transit to charter school from public schools?
- Do charter schools follow the traditional learning process?
- What elements of the experience of transitioning from traditional public schools to charter public schools are perceived as positive?
- What elements of the transitioning experience from traditional public schools to charter public schools are perceived as negative?
- Which aspects of the transition proved to be most difficult? Why?
- What are teachers' perceptions regarding improvements that charter schools need to make to increase teacher retention?
There are several reasons why qualitative research design was chosen to investigate this topic. First, it is connected with the nature of teacher’s performance. In some cases it is quite difficult to determine right indicators for numeric evaluation. Second, since little statistical research data has been retrieved by previous investigators, the researcher has no expectation to do it. The problems faced by teachers while shifting from public to charter schools still need to be determined along with the approach to such problems (Bryman, 2006). The issues of interest are explored deeper, and retrieved information is related to the problem at hand. The reasons why qualitative research design is used include:
- Helps develop an initial understanding of the phenomenon and related issues;
- Helps analyze different perspectives expressed by groups or separate individuals;
- Gives explanations to numerical data in the future;
- Searches for both ideas and feeling related to the transition of teachers and their experiences with it;
- Reveals underlying factors and motivations that affect opinions and decision-making process;
- Helps develop parameters for a following quantitative study;
- Helps understand how exactly teachers perceive the difference in environments of public and charter schools and what experiences they have in relation to the transition process;
- Helps understand and capture feelings, perceptions, and values that affect behavioral patterns of participants of the educational process;
- Helps generate recommendations for possible improvements of existing conditions for teachers during transition;
- Helps uncover potential developments in the strategy for a new transition program with more comfortable experiences.
Such qualitative researchers as studies of Bryman (2006, p. 97–113) and Eisenhardt (1989, p. 352-550) were aimed to understand how people interpret their experiences, how they construct their worlds, and what meaning they attribute to their experiences (Merriam, 2009). This method allows participants to talk about their experiences, attitudes, beliefs, thoughts, and reflections. By using qualitative research design, the researcher evaluates information better. In qualitative research, the use of a manual is necessary because it allows the researcher to focus attention on key issues and objects of the investigation with respect to a given problem.
Case Study as a Research Method
Case study is a research method, which is qualitative in nature and is one of the most typical ways to retrieve qualitative data. It includes in-depth interviews, triads, focus groups, bulletin boards, uninterrupted observations, and ethnographic observations/participation. Case study provides the possibility to investigate peculiarities of such a complex process as teachers’ transition from public to charter schools. It can also provide evidence to the existing theories, while contributing to the overall scientific knowledge in this sphere. Case study focuses on detailed characteristics and contextual specifics of a restricted amount of phenomena or conditions and their links (Bryman, 2006). This method has been used for years by many researchers that represent various fields of study. The extension of methods and ideas application has become possible due to the implementation of data retrieved during the case study that covers contemporary real-life situations (Eisenhardt, 1989). The case study is mainly defined as an empirical method for investigating a contemporary phenomenon in the context of real life. The case study is used when it is difficult to define exact boundaries between the phenomenon and the relevant context (Yin, 1984).
Qualitative method also implies analysis of information retrieved with the help of language and behavior observations in natural settings. Case study assumes incorporation of various information sources. Therefore, data systematization needs to be carried out. Preparation in advance will assist in coping with large volumes of obtained information with the help of either systematization or documentation (May, 2002). A database has to be prepared to work with data efficiently.
A population has been generally defined as the group that the researcher seeks to study to get research findings. Taking the goals of this research into consideration, the population that this research seeks to study are teachers, who are currently employed at Dallas Can Academy, who previously came from traditional public schools (Balnaves & Caputi, 2001). Dallas Can Academy Charter is a charter school located in Dallas, Texas. Looking at the teachers we can note that in 2010 29.7% were just beginners, 47.09% had 1-5 years experience teaching, and only a total of 22.4% had years and more teaching experience. The minimum salary is $42,190 for beginner teachers, and those with the experience of 20 years get $77,941 annually. 52.4% of the teachers are African Americans, 19.4% are White, 12.8% are Hispanic, and the rest are Native Americans or Asians. Teachers constitute 49.0% of the staff members (Dallas Can Academy Charter Demographics, 2012).
Sample/Selection of Participants
In the view of the size of population of interest, a sample must be chosen in order to collect data through methods that the researcher deems appropriate. Representative sample is important to ensure effective data collection to find answers to various research questions (Balnaves & Caputi, 2001). Generally, a sample is defined as representative part of the population that is subjected to data collection method in order to get pertinent information about the topic and its effect on the population (Williams, 2007, p. 3).
For the purpose of qualitative research, 6 to 10 respondents will be selected using purposeful sampling. These respondents will be teachers, who have transferred from traditional public schools to charter public schools at Dallas Can Academy. Purposeful sampling method generally refers to the method used to select respondents based on the goals of the research as well as based on the criteria developed by the researcher (Balnaves & Caputi, 2001; Denzin & Lincoln, 2005).
In this regard, the research makes use of the following criteria in relation to the selection of respondents for the topic at hand: (1) must be currently employed in a charter school, (2) must have been employed in a charter school for at least one year, (3) must have been employed in a traditional public school before transferring to a charter school, (4) must have expressed his or her consent to participate in the study and (5) must have accomplished the necessary waiver and consent forms.
Selection of respondents begins with the researcher first contacting the school district supervisor for the names and employment records of teachers employed in charter schools. In qualitative research, it is important to seek and obtain permissions from individuals and organizations at many levels (Creswell, 2012). The researcher then contacts principals and school administrators of charter schools to obtain their consent about the participation of some of their teachers in the study. It is important to gain access to research or archival site by seeking approval of gatekeepers. Individuals at the research site provide access to this site and allow researchers to complete their investigations (Creswell, 2009). The researcher should explain goals, purposes, and objectives of the research as well as questions that it aims to answer (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005). Then, teachers have to comply with requirements regarding consent. It is only upon the submission that they will be allowed to participate in the study (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005).
Data Collection Methods
Hatch (2002) and Creswell (2007) recommend to use multiple data sources in qualitative research. Because qualitative research aims to understand human phenomena in its natural settings, it requires researchers to examine several types of data for a fuller understanding of the phenomena. Data collection methods in qualitative research generally and of case study in particular, are observation, interview, and document analysis (Walliman & Bousmacha, 2001). Merriam (2009) states:
Qualitative data consist of “direct quotations from people about their experiences, opinions, feelings, and knowledge” obtained through interviews; “detailed descriptions of people’s activities, behaviors, actions” recorded in observations; and “excerpts, quotations, or entire passages” extracted from various types of documents (p. 85).
Due to the chosen method of data collection and its specificity, the research performs qualitative measurements of traits, merits, attributes, and major characteristics of the ‘traditional-charter’ transition experience. Further analysis of data will demonstrate typical and atypical qualitative characteristics of the variables, the difference, degree, and relationship between the research variables.
The main data collection method is the interview. Having identified a disciplinary orientation and design for investigation, a researcher gathers information that will address fundamental research question (Hancock & Algozzine, 2006).
To complement qualitative research design, the researcher considers it important to review existing documents or create and administer new documents from which to gather information related to the research questions concerning the learning process in charter schools, difficulties which teachers face after the transfer from public schools, positive and negative experience of transitioning and others. This is done by many researchers in addition to interviews (Hancock & Algozzine, 2006). The researcher will conduct one-on-one interviews with participants. The interview will be the major data collection tool of the study or may be used to corroborate or verify observations (Lodico et al., 2006). Interviews are a very common form of data collection in case study research (Hancock & Algozzine, 2006).
Data Collection Instruments
In qualitative research some and occasionally all data is collected through interviews (Merriam, 2009). Thus, it will be possible to conduct these interviews on the phone, Skype, by email, or one-on-one. Prepared open-ended questions will be asked to elicit teachers` experiences of transferring from traditional public schools to charter schools. If conducted on site, interviews will last not more than 25 minutes each. Out of multiple data collection instruments available, the researcher chose the most convenient and advanced ones. These include digital records, which will be used due to their usability and user-friendliness, among others. Even if an interview is taped, researchers take notes in case that recording equipment fails (Merriam, 2009). The interview guide will keep interviews focused and geared to successful data collection from all participants. The interview guide, or interview schedule, is a list of questions that a researcher intends to ask during an interview (Merriam, 2009).
Data Analysis Methods
In order to ensure proper analysis of data, the use of coding or categorizing strategies has been deemed of paramount importance (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005). Coding is generally defined as the manner in which data obtained by the researcher is subdivided and analyzed. Codes and categories are used in order to label various units for measurement to determine the meaning of data obtained. Usually, such codes are attached to words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs (Merriam, 2009). In sum, coding methods are used in order to ascertain the meanings embedded into words, phrases, and paragraphs which provide research data (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005).
In order to get quality results Atlas.ti Software will be used. With the help of the mentioned software it will be calculated a measure of the respondent due his or her profession and negative attitudes to power; arranged all respondents in two-or three-dimensional space according to their statements (analysis of ideology election program); and distinguished semantic elements in photos. Data from case studies and research-related activities will be then processed (Richards, 2005). One of the possible methods was created by Boe & Sunderland (2011), who claimed that software created by them was useful for handling and processing qualitative data (Boe & Sunderland, 2011). The reasons why this option was chosen include:
- High usability and easy learning;
- Clear logical organization that is easy to comprehend and apply in this study, no complicated routes to learn and comprehend;
- Flexibility is ensured because no commitment to a definite approach or method was determined;
- Availability of both easy and complicated tools;
- Advanced capacity for both team and individual research;
- Integration with online platforms, the ability to track the progress of the research via Internet;
- Flawless integration of interpretation into data description with the help of memos.
Finally, Boe & Sunderland's (p. 7-10) software offers an opportunity to acquire new research skills to this practical case. Atlas.ti corresponds to requirements of the research purpose, data types that are expected to be obtained, analysis strategies, and other research design aspects.