by David Safier
NOTE: This is the eleventh in a series of recent posts examining Imagine Schools. (Here are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10.) If you have ideas or information to add, please leave comments at the end of the post or email me at email@example.com. I keep all email correspondence confidential.
At the end of this school year, Imagine Prep at Superstition in Apache Junction had, basically, a total teacher turnover. Of the 14 teachers for the 2011-12 school year, no more than one or two are returning.
High teacher turnover has been the rule, not the exception during the school's four year history. Of the 4 1/2 teachers who taught during the school's first year, only two returned. The next year the school had 10 teachers and only one stayed on. There were 16 teachers the third year, and because of a supportive principal, 10 remained. But that principal left in August, before the start of the fourth year. The year began with 14 teachers, some teachers left and others were hired during the year, and only one or two are planning to return when school starts up in a few weeks.
The turnover at Imagine Prep at Superstition in Apache Junction is probably high by Imagine standards, but regular staff turnover appears to be typical. Unfortunately, I don't have access to the turnover rates in Arizona Imagine Schools, but the St. Louis Post Dispatch has a database of all Missouri Educators' salaries and teaching experience at the end of the 2010 school year, sortable by individual schools, which gives a good picture of the inexperience of Imagine Schools teachers in the St. Louis schools, all of which were closed in June by the Missouri School Board.
The four oldest St. Louis Imagine schools began in 2007, meaning they were 3 years old at the end of the 2010 school year. More than a quarter of the teachers at each of the schools were completing their first years. Between 40% and 45% were either first or second year teachers. Between 55% and 70% had taught no more than three years. That, by the way, is their total teaching experience, not just at Imagine Schools.
Given the number of teachers with three years experience or less, it's pretty clear Imagine likes to hire teachers straight out of college, and many of them last less than three years. As one Arizona ex-teacher told me, when they're young and inexperienced (as he was when he began), they're willing to work ridiculous hours and do pretty much whatever they're asked to do. And since they have no basis for comparison, they don't know what is expected of teachers elsewhere. Everyone this ex-teacher knows who went on to teach at a non-Imagine school is much happier, and far wiser about the problems at Imagine.
Money, I'm sure, is another major reason for hiring inexperienced teachers. The average Missouri teacher salary was about $40,000. Less than 10% of Imagine teachers made over $40,000, and the school's average was more like $35,000.
I can't say for certain the low teacher experience and high turnover rate is true at Arizona's Imagine schools, or in schools other than those in St. Louis. My supposition is that this is more the rule than the exception, something that is actively promoted in the Imagine Schools' ethos. If I'm incorrect -- or if you know of other similar turnover rates -- feel free to comment or send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org).