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Teacher Working Conditions, Teacher Commitment, and Charter Schools


by Yongmei Ni - 2017

Background: The charter school movement relies on teachers as critical components. Teacher commitment is an important aspect of teachers’ lives, because it is an internal force for teachers to grow as professionals. It is also considered one of the crucial factors in influencing various educational outcomes, including teacher effectiveness, teacher retention, and student learning. However, no empirical studies have examined teacher commitment in charter schools.

Purpose: To address this knowledge gap, this study compares organizational and professional commitment of teachers in charter schools and traditional public schools (TPSs) and explores how these differences are associated with teachers’ characteristics, school contextual factors, and working conditions in the two types of schools.

Research design: This study utilizes quantitative analyses of national data from the 2007–2008 School and Staffing Survey. Hierarchical linear models were developed to examine whether teacher commitment differs between charter schools and TPSs; how teacher characteristics, school contextual factors, and teachers’ perceptions of working conditions contribute to the difference; and finally, whether these variables differentially influence teacher commitment in charter schools and TPSs.

Conclusions: On average, teachers in charter schools experienced lower levels of organizational commitment than teachers in TPSs, but similar levels of professional commitment. Teacher working conditions explained a large amount of the variance in between-school teacher commitment, suggesting that improving principal leadership, increasing opportunities for professional development, and alleviating teachers’ workload would be effective ways to promote teacher commitment in charter schools.



Charter schools are publicly funded schools that operate independently under charters granted by an authorizing body. Although the details vary from state to state, charter schools tend to enjoy substantial operational autonomy while being held accountable for meeting state and federal performance standards. Minnesota passed the first charter school law in 1991, and by 2013 more than 40 states had passed legislation allowing for the creation of charter schools. According to the National Center of Educational Statistics (2015), there were about 6,100 charter schools in 2012–2013 enrolling 2.3 million students, or 4.6% of public elementary and secondary students nationwide.


The charter school movement relies on teachers as critical components. The theory of action underlying charter schools focuses on creating new roles for teachers and expanding teachers’ professional opportunities (Malloy & Wohlstetter, 2003). According to the early visionaries of the charter school movement, teachers are professionals who should be encouraged to not only offer innovative instruction but also collectively participate in fundamental decisions regarding school design and organization (Finn, Manno, & Vanourek, 2000; Kolderie, 2004; Nathan, 1996). A review of charter school legislation shows that the majority of state charter laws include language that highlights increased teacher commitment and participation as a guiding component. However, existing empirical evidence on teachers in charter schools does not always support these ideas. For example, studies have shown that although charter schools are freed from many state and district regulations, they do not necessarily promote professional autonomy for their teachers (Crawford & Forsyth, 2004; Gawlik, 2008). Charter schools are not particularly innovative in their instructional practices; rather, they tend to replicate traditional instructional and curricular practices (Lubienski, 2003; Preston, Goldring, Berends, & Cannata, 2012). While charter school teachers perceive significantly more influence over school policies, their workloads are significantly higher than traditional school teachers (Ni, 2012). Finally, teachers in charter schools are more likely to transfer to another school or quit teaching compared to their traditional school colleagues, due to the higher proportions of uncertified and inexperienced teachers and the low rate of union membership in charter schools (Harris, 2007; Miron & Applegate, 2007; Stuit & Smith, 2012).


So far, no empirical studies have examined teacher commitment in charter schools, an important aspect of teachers’ professional lives. Teacher commitment should be emphasized because “it is an internal force coming from teachers themselves who have needs for greater responsibility, variety, and challenge in the work” as their level of participation in education have grown (Park, 2005, p. 462; Razak, Darmawan, & Keeves, 2009). In addition, teacher commitment is considered as one of the crucial factors in influencing various educational outcomes, including teacher effectiveness, teachers’ decisions to stay in the school and in the teaching profession, and student learning (Allensworth, Ponisciak, & Mazzeo, 2009; Chan, Lau, Nie, Lim, & Hogan, 2008; Kushman, 1992; Ladd, 2011; Park, 2005). Many factors, including teachers’ personal attributes, the contextual factors of the schools they work in, and their perceptions of the workplace conditions, are associated with teachers’ levels of commitment towards their schools and teaching (Chan et al., 2008; Kushman, 1992).


School choice advocates argue that charter school teachers have high teacher commitment. Autonomous and largely independent of local school districts, charter schools can directly shape working conditions to promote teachers’ commitment to their students, their school, and the teaching profession (DeArmond, Gross, Bowen, Demerit, & Lake, 2012). In addition, charter schools enjoy greater flexibility in hiring teachers who would be a good “fit” with the school’s philosophy, therefore, their teachers would be more committed to a school’s mission and have shared views of instructional goals and practices as a group (Cannata, 2007; Gross & DeArmond, 2011). School choice critics, on the other hand, would predict low teacher commitment in charter school teachers because of the stress, job insecurity, and inadequate resources (Cannata, 2007; Johnson & Landman, 2000). In addition, it is possible that teacher commitment differs among different types of charter schools, given the great diversity of charter school laws, authorizing bodies, and the variety of operational agencies and their missions.


So far, little empirical evidence is available on how teachers in charter schools and traditional public schools (TPSs) compare in terms of teacher commitment and how organizational conditions in the two types of schools are associated with teacher commitment. The lack of knowledge on this issue is particularly troubling given the proliferation of charter schools and their emphasis on teacher professionalism. In addition, charter schools are one example of a host of other decentralized education reforms, such as the portfolio models in large urban school districts, including Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, and New Orleans, and the turnaround policies that involve greater autonomy for improved accountability (Bulkley, Henig, & Levin, 2010). These alternative governance structures and policies also include the principles of decentralization, choice, and professional opportunities for teachers. Therefore, looking at teachers’ experiences in charter schools provides insight into a range of different policies aimed at improving teachers’ professional experiences.


This study addresses the knowledge gap of teacher commitment in charter schools and contributes to the literature of teacher commitment in general. Using a nationally representative database from the 2007–2008 School and Staffing Survey (SASS), I compare teacher commitment in charter and traditional public schools and explore how teachers’ differing levels of commitment are associated with teacher characteristics, school contextual factors, and working conditions in these two types of schools.


LITERATURE REVIEW


The literature has characterized teacher commitment as a multidimensional phenomenon that is influenced by the interaction of personal experiences and the social, cultural, and institutional environments in which they occur (Firestone & Pennell, 1993). In this section, I review the definition of teacher commitment, the individual and organizational factors that influence it, and how teacher commitment might differ between charter schools and TPSs due to the systematic personal and organizational differences between the two types of schools. I then synthesize the theory and empirical evidence to develop a conceptual framework that guides the research questions for this study.


CONCEPTUALIZING TEACHER COMMITMENT  


Teacher commitment is complex because teachers bond not only with their organizations or schools, but also with other entities such as their colleagues, students, professional associations, and the teaching profession itself. Although there are various definitions of commitment, the recent literature has focused on some combinations of three distinct types of teacher commitment: commitment to the school organization, commitment to the teaching profession, and commitment to students (e.g., Firestone & Pennell, 1993; Kushman, 1992; Park, 2005; Razak et al., 2009; Riehl & Sipple, 1996; Somech & Bolger, 2002).


Organizational commitment refers to a strong belief in, and acceptance of, the values and goals of an organization. Teachers with high levels of organizational commitment tend to exert considerable effort on behalf of their schools and to express high levels of attachment to their schools as formal organizations (Razak et al., 2009). Teachers who are committed to their schools are more likely to remain and help the schools in achieving their goals, while teachers with low organizational commitment are more likely to leave, possibly to teach in other schools. Teachers with low organizational commitment who remain in their schools tend to exert minimum effort and display patterns of chronic absenteeism, which influence instructional effectiveness and student learning negatively (Rosenholtz & Simpson, 1990).


Professional commitment denotes an attachment to one’s work and profession, rather than to a specific school (Somech & Bolger, 2002). Professional commitment motivates a teacher to develop the skills and relationships necessary for having a successful career, regardless of the particular school or institution (Razak et al., 2009). Teachers with high professional commitment are more likely to stay teaching than teachers with low professional commitment. However, teachers with high professional commitment but low organizational commitment may seek teaching positions in other schools. Finally, commitment to students refers to teachers’ willingness to take responsibility for student behavior and student learning (Kushman, 1992; Park, 2005). Teachers with high levels of commitment to their students have been shown to improve student engagement in learning and academic achievement, especially for low-achieving students (Kushman, 1992).


As Firestone and Pennell (1993) noted, some combination of all three commitment types is “necessary for teachers to have the motivation to professionalize and pursue changes in their practice while coping with the complex demands these changes present” (p. 493). Also, understanding an individual teacher’s commitment orientation is crucial because the effects on educational outcomes may vary depending on which types of commitment are present (Firestone & Pennell, 1993). In this analysis, due to limitations of data availability of the 2007–2008 SASS, I will focus on two dimensions of teacher commitment: organizational commitment and professional commitment.


FACTORS THAT INFLUENCE TEACHER COMMITMENT


Teacher Working Conditions


Organizational research has shown that various workplace conditions, such as opportunities for collaboration, participation in decision making, autonomy, learning opportunities, an orderly environment, administrative support, and reasonable workloads, can influence both organizational and professional commitment (Firestone & Pennell, 1993). Teachers working in schools with staff who share their beliefs and values about their central mission and goals are more likely to form an effective teacher community and work collaboratively toward those goals (Allensworth et al., 2009, Bryk, Camburn, & Louis, 1999; Chan et al., 2008; Jones, Youngs, & Frank, 2013; Louis, Marks, & Kruse, 1996). This helps to improve overall teacher commitment to the school and willingness to remain in the profession (Ingersoll, 2001; Johnson & Birkeland, 2003; Weiss, 1999).


Some studies have shown that teacher autonomy combined with collaborative decision-making leads to high levels of teacher commitment and low rates of turnover: Teachers can take credit for their own success by identifying the ways in which their own work has contributed to their students’ learning and the school’s mission (Firestone & Pennell, 1993; Ingersoll, 2001; Liu, 2007). Providing teachers with opportunities to learn subject content and innovative pedagogical approaches, and thus grow as professionals, also promotes a sense of competence, which leads to high teacher commitment (Johnson & Birkeland, 2003). Positive student behaviors and an orderly school environment relieve teachers from mediating classroom disputes and help them maximize their attention to core instructional tasks of teaching, which create opportunities for teachers to gain the psychological rewards that are associated with high teacher commitment (Firestone & Pennell, 1993; Kushman, 1992). Moreover, reasonable teaching loads enhance teachers’ capacity for class preparation and adequate student performance monitoring, which allows teachers to be more actively committed to and engaged in teaching.


Research has identified school leadership as an important predictor of teacher commitment. Effective principals help develop shared understandings about the school and its purpose or vision, provide teachers with sufficient resources and training to move in that direction, and ensure that organizational conditions fully support and sustain effective teaching and learning both individually and collectively (Leithwood, Louis, Anderson, & Wahlstrom, 2004). Supportive school leadership plays a large part in shaping teachers’ attitudes toward the school and their intention to remain in the teaching profession (Allensworth et al., 2009; Boyd et al, 2011; Ingersoll, 2001; Johnson, 2006; Ladd, 2011; Pogodzinski, Youngs, Frank, & Belman, 2012; Stockard & Lehman, 2004; Weiss, 1999).


Teacher Characteristics and School Contextual Factors


Teachers’ personal and professional backgrounds and school contextual factors, including student demographics and structural school factors, are largely immutable and very difficult for schools to change. Nevertheless, these factors tend to affect teacher commitment significantly. For example, Hausman and Goldring (2001) have shown that teachers working in schools serving high proportions of low income, minority, low-achieving, and mobile student populations tend to have low organizational commitment (see also Kushman, 1992). However, school size, educational level, and school location have not shown consistent relationships with organizational and professional commitment. Riehl and Sipple (1996) found no significant association between teacher commitment and school size, while in Chicago Public Schools, Allensworth et al. (2009) reported that at the elementary level, teachers in small schools expressed more commitment to their schools than those in large or medium-sized schools, while at the high school level, teachers in small schools tended to report lower levels of commitment than teachers in medium or large high schools. While Riehl and Sipple (1996) found that school location was not a significant influence on commitment, Park (2005) reported that teachers in urban schools were less committed to the students than suburban and rural teachers. Finally, limited evidence showed that middle school teachers had higher commitment than high school teachers (Riehl & Sipple, 1996), but similar levels of commitment as elementary teachers (Kushman, 1992).


Further, no consistent patterns of the effects of the characteristics of individual teachers on teacher commitment have emerged from previous studies (Razak et al., 2009). While some studies found that female teachers displayed more professional commitment and commitment to students than male teachers (Park, 2005; Singh & Billingsley, 1998), others reported no relationship between gender and teacher commitment (Billingsley & Cross, 1992; Kushman, 1992). The evidence on the relationship between teacher experience and teacher commitment is also mixed. While some studies found that years of teaching experience were not associated with organizational commitment (Riehl & Sipple, 1996), others reported that more experienced teachers felt less committed to the organizations than did less experienced teachers (Hulpia, Devos, & Van Keer 2010; Singh & Billingsley, 1998). Still others observed positive relations between teaching experience and professional commitment (Chan et al., 2008). Furthermore, studies examining the relationship between teachers’ education level and professional commitment reported either negative (Singh & Billingsley, 1998) or no relationship (Riehl & Sipple, 1996).


There are many potential reasons for the mixed findings of the relationship between personal and school characteristics and teacher commitment. One possible explanation is the variation in operationalization of teacher commitment, because different studies tended to use different instruments in measuring the teacher commitment construct (Chan et al., 2008). In addition, some studies did not distinguish different dimensions of teacher commitment, while others only focused on one dimension of teacher commitment. Further, existing studies were conducted in different contexts and cultures, which may affect teacher commitment in very different ways (Chan et al., 2008).


CHARTER SCHOOLS AND TEACHER COMMITMENT


The underlying theory of charter schools is that they are given more freedom and autonomy than their TPS counterparts in exchange for increased accountability (Crawford & Forsyth, 2004). Laws governing charter schools vary greatly from state to state, resulting in a great diversity of charter schools in terms of the type of authorizing bodies, the use of management companies, and the pre-existing status of charter schools (whether converted from TPSs or private schools). Together, these factors influence their student body, teaching staff, organizational conditions, and therefore, the level of commitment of their teachers. To date, empirical research has not established whether charter school teachers have higher or lower organizational and professional commitment than TPS teachers and how various contextual and organizational factors might contribute to the different levels of teacher commitment, if any, between the two types of schools and among charter schools. In what follows, I review theory and empirical evidence on how charter schools and TPSs differ in terms of school contextual factors, teacher characteristics, and teacher working conditions and hypothesize how teacher commitment might be different between the two types of schools.


School Contextual Factors in Charter Schools


Charter schools differ systematically from regular public schools in many contextual factors. For example, charter schools tend to be located in large metropolitan areas, because of the greatest need/desire for alternatives to the traditional public school system. In addition, higher population densities and diversity increase the likelihood that enough students will enroll (Glomm, Harris, & Lo, 2005). A large proportion of charter schools only provide K–8 education since it is generally less costly than a high school education (Arsen, Plank, & Sykes, 1999). In addition, charter schools often use intentional admission strategies to shape their student bodies, with the result that their students may be noticeably different from those at neighboring public schools (Arsen et al., 1999; Lacireno-Paquet & Brantley, 2008; Wamba & Ascher, 2003; Wells, Holme, Lopez, & Cooper, 2000). Some charter schools, especially mission-oriented charter schools, may seek students disproportionately from certain racial, social, and cultural backgrounds. Some serve larger proportions of White and affluent students, while others target at-risk or poorly served students (Bifulco & Ladd, 2006; Lacireno-Paquet & Brantley, 2008). In addition, many charter schools do not serve special needs students or are only able to provide limited services for them (Fiore, Harwell, Blackorby, & Finnigan, 2000; Welner & Howe, 2005). Since these factors, such as location, school size, educational level, and student demographics, do not demonstrate consistent impact on teacher commitment in the literature, it is hard to say how the levels of teacher commitment in charter schools are influenced by these factors.


Teacher Characteristics in Charter Schools


Teachers in charter schools and TPSs tend to be different also. Teachers presumably can self-select into charter schools whose vision matches their own and whose colleagues share their instructional goals and practices (Cannata, 2007; DeArmond et al., 2012; Gross & DeArmond, 2011; Malloy & Wohlstetter, 2003). The match between schools and teachers can increase teachers’ relational trust and collective commitment toward a common mission (Bryk & Schneider, 2002; Malloy & Wohlstetter, 2003). On the other hand, there are so many different types of charter schools, and not all charter schools are mission-oriented. Charter schools initiated by Educational Management Organizations (EMOs), for example, are more profit- or market-oriented and do not necessarily stress specific missions.


In addition, charter schools are less likely to offer teachers tenure and decisions on teacher dismissals and promotions are usually unrestricted by external contracts or policies (Cannata, 2007; Hill, Rainey, & Rotherham, 2006). Research has shown that dismissal rates in charter schools are much higher than TPSs, often based on administrators’ evaluations of teacher performance (Master, 2014; Podgursky & Ballou, 2001). The increased flexibility in firing teachers can cause teachers to experience stress and doubts (Hill et al., 2006; Johnson & Landman, 2000). With fewer employment protections, charter school teachers are more vulnerable than TPS teachers to capricious and unfair actions by their employers (Johnson & Landman, 2000), which might lead to low organizational commitment. In addition, charter school teachers are less likely to be unionized than TPS teachers (Hill et al., 2006; Ni, 2012). Although there is little empirical research on how teacher unions influence teacher commitment, teacher unions’ considerable power might cause teacher commitment to shift from the school to the union (Razak et al., 2009).


Moreover, lack of job protections and low salary levels may put charter schools at a disadvantage in attracting and retaining teachers who prefer a job with tenure and a higher salary. For example, many charter schools recruit teachers through non-traditional organizations such as Teach for America, which purposefully recruits competitive recent college graduates who did not major in education to commit to teaching for only two years (Chadwick & Kowal, 2011). While nearly two-thirds of TFA teachers stay in the profession beyond their two-year commitment, less than a quarter stay in their initial school for more than three years (Donaldson & Johnson, 2011). So far, there is no research exploring the effect of these recruiting and hiring practices on teacher commitment in charter schools, although research has shown that charter schools tend to have higher proportions of inexperienced teachers and therefore high teacher turnover rates than TPSs (Stuit & Smith, 2012).


Teacher Working Conditions in Charter Schools


Charter schools may influence teacher commitment by providing teachers with unique workplace conditions. Early proponents of charter schools argued that their principals are visionary instructional leaders, their teachers are autonomous and innovative professionals, and their students are well behaved with better attendance records than TPS students (Finn et al., 2000; Kolderie, 2004; Imberman, 2011; Malloy & Wohlstetter, 2003; Nathan, 1996). In theory, these should all contribute to higher organizational and professional commitment for teachers (Firestone & Pennell, 1993).  


Research on charter school working conditions, however, has shown mixed results. Although charter and TPS teachers perceived their working conditions to be similar in many regards, charter school teachers reported higher levels of teacher community and more influence over school policies, but a heavier workload, than traditional school teachers (Cannata, 2007; Johnson & Landman, 2000; Malloy & Wohlstetter, 2003; Ni, 2012). While participating in important school-wide decisions about budget, personnel, schedule, curriculum, and school climate contributed to high teacher commitment, it also meant extra hours for teachers (Johnson & Landman, 2000; Malloy & Wohlstetter, 2003). Such heavy workloads might lead to job insecurity, stress, and therefore a low sense of commitment (Johnson & Landman, 2000). In addition, because of their limited access to district-supported professional development, charter schools often develop and implement their professional development in-house by teachers, which potentially limits the types of professional development teachers are exposed to (Gross, 2011).


Finally, it is possible teacher working conditions vary among different types of charter schools. For example, district-granted charter schools generally provide more supportive working environments than do charter schools granted by State Boards of Education, postsecondary institutions, and other organizations (Ni, 2012). In addition, charter schools that are converted from public schools may continue to operate much the way they did as TPSs, such that teacher working conditions are essentially unchanged (Buddin & Zimmer, 2005).


To sum up, because of the range of systematic differences, including school contextual factors, teacher characteristic, and working conditions, teachers’ organizational and professional commitment may differ between charter schools and TPSs. However, theories and existing evidence do not warrant a conclusion of definitely higher or lower teacher commitment in either type of school, because different individual and organizational factors influence each dimension of teacher commitment in different ways. To complicate things, these factors may confound and/or interact with charter school effects in influencing teacher commitment. For example, administrative leadership may have a larger impact on teacher commitment in charter schools than in TPSs because charter principals experience substantially more autonomy than their TPS peers over a wide range of internal school activities, all of which influence teachers’ daily practice (Gawlik, 2008). Also, it is possible that professional development opportunities have more influence on teacher commitment in charter schools, since charter school teachers are less likely to be graduated from teacher education programs, have fewer years of teaching experiences, and are encouraged more to be innovative professionals than their TPS peers are.


CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK AND RESEARCH QUESTIONS


Figure 1 shows the conceptual framework for studying the relationship between charter schools and teacher commitment. Based on the literature, the framework posits that differences in teacher commitment between TPSs and charter schools could be caused by differences in teacher characteristics, school contextual factors, and teacher working conditions, which all significantly influence teacher commitment. In addition, these three sets of variables may have differential effects on teacher commitment in charter schools and TPSs.

 

Figure 1. Conceptual framework

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The 2007–2008 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) measured teachers’ organizational and professional commitment through the public teacher questionnaire. As noted previously, teacher commitment to students was not assessed in the SASS. Additional SASS items also measured teacher working conditions, including school leadership, sense of collegiality and community, autonomy, learning opportunities, student behavior, and workload. Because the 2007–2008 SASS did not question teachers about their participation in school-level decisions, autonomy was only measured at the classroom level. It should be noted that these measures of teachers’ working conditions and commitment are based on teachers’ self-reported answers, which reflect their perceptions, rather than on an objective measure.

  

Specifically, my research questions based on the conceptual framework are these:


(1) Do teachers in charter schools and TPSs have different levels of commitment?

(2) If yes, can these differences be explained by teacher characteristics, school contextual factors, and working conditions in the two types of schools?

(3) Do these variables have differential effects on teacher commitment between charter schools and TPSs?


Based on the literature on teacher working conditions, teacher commitment, and charter schools, I hypothesize that charter school and TPS teachers experience different levels of organizational and professional commitment, which could be higher or lower in either type of schools. I also hypothesize that personal and organizational variables have differential effects on each dimension of teacher commitment. In particular, school contextual factors and teacher working conditions may have a larger impact on organizational commitment than professional commitment, because these factors define teachers’ working environments and therefore have a strong effect on their loyalty to the specific school. Finally, I hypothesize that different individual and organizational factors may have differential effects on teacher commitment in charter schools and TPSs, including organizational commitment and professional commitment.


DATA


As noted, the data used in this study come from the 2007–2008 SASS, administered by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). SASS is the nation’s most extensive survey of K–12 schools, teachers, and administrators. This study mainly used data from the public school teacher questionnaire, including teacher characteristics and teacher perceptions of commitment and working conditions. Some of the school contextual factors were obtained from the public school questionnaire.


SASS uses a complex stratified sampling design so that the survey data are representative at the state and the national level for all public schools, including charter schools. The 2007–2008 sampling frame for public schools was an adjusted version of the 2005–2006 Common Core Data. As a result, charter schools were sampled from all states that had charter schools in the 2005–2006 school year, including 35 states and the District of Columbia. The final analytic sample of the 2007–2008 SASS includes 270 charter schools that represent 3,560 charter schools nationwide and 7,310 TPSs representing a national population of 87,170 TPSs.1


Several criteria were applied in determining the sample for this study. First, only full-time (at least .75 full time equivalent) teachers in public schools were included. This included 94.7% of all sampled TPS teachers and 96.0% of charter school teachers. Second, only the states with charter schools were included in the main analysis. Third, among all sampled public schools, those that exclusively provided special education, vocational education, or alternative education were excluded from the analysis since they were generally very different from regular K–12 schools in both mission and operations. The final unweighted sample sizes for teachers in charter schools and TPSs are 630 and 19,930, respectively. After applying the SASS teacher and school final weights, the sample represents about 42,510 teachers in 2,180 charter schools and 2,197,090 teachers in 62,620 TPSs. Since this study incorporates the SASS sampling weights, the results are generalizable to all charter schools nationwide and all regular K–12 TPSs in the states with charter schools.


Among all the sampled charter schools, the average years of operation was 6.1 years, with 20% operating for 3 years or less and 15% operating for 10 years or more. About 54% of the charter schools were independent and governed by a state education agency or chartering organization, with the remaining 46% governed by regular public school districts.


METHOD


Two main steps were involved in the analysis. First, I generated the measures of teacher working conditions and teacher commitment from items in the SASS public school teacher questionnaire. Then, I established the relationships between charter schools and teacher commitment using a series of two-level Hierarchical Linear Models (HLM).


MEASURING TEACHER WORKING CONDITIONS AND TEACHER COMMITMENT


The measures of teachers’ perceptions of working conditions and teacher commitment were obtained from responses to the SASS questionnaire for all sampled full-time public school teachers. Drawing on previous efforts to conceptualize the relevant components of teacher working conditions (Firestone & Pennell, 1993; Johnson, 2006; Johnson & Birkeland, 2003; Weiss, 1999), I identified data in the 2007–2008 SASS that reflect the following key dimensions: (1) principal leadership and administrative support, (2) sense of community and collegiality, (3) teacher autonomy in the classroom, (4) student behaviors, (5) opportunities for professional development, and (6) workload.


Four of the working conditions variables were generated using confirmatory factor analysis: principal leadership, sense of community and collegiality, teacher autonomy in the classroom, and student behaviors. Table 1 provides a detailed description of the survey items used and their associated factor loadings for each variable. The items worded and scored negatively in the questionnaire were rescored in a positive direction to match the other items. All the factors have good internal reliability and high factor loadings, as shown in Table 1. Teacher final weights were applied in generating the factors. The factor scores were standardized to a mean of zero and a standard deviation (SD) of one and were used for the subsequent HLM analysis.


Table 1. Measures for Teachers’ Perceptions of Working Conditions: Survey Items, Factor Loadings, and Reliabilities


 Variable

Factor loadings

Principal leadership (α = 0.86)

 

To what extent do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements? a

 

The school administration’s behavior toward the staff is supportive and encouraging.

0.85

I like the way things are run at this school.

0.84

My principal enforces school rules for student conduct and backs me up when I need it.

0.84

The principal knows what kind of school he or she wants and has communicated it to the staff.

0.81

In this school, staff members are recognized for a job well done.

0.78

I am given the support I need to teach students with special needs.

0.51

  

Sense of community and collegiality (α = 0.82)

 

To what extent do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements? a

 

Most of my colleagues share my beliefs and values about what the central mission of the school should be.

0.82

There is a great deal of cooperative effort among the staff members.

0.80

Rules for student behavior are consistently enforced by teachers in this school, even for students who are not in their classes.

0.71

The teachers at this school like being here; I would describe us as a satisfied group.

0.64

  

Teacher control in classroom (α = 0.75)

 

How much actual control do you have IN YOUR CLASSROOM at this school over the following areas of your planning and teaching?b

 

Selecting teaching techniques

0.83

Evaluating and grading students

0.77

Selecting content, topics, and skills to be taught

0.69

Determining the amount of homework to be assigned

0.66

Selecting textbooks and other instructional materials

0.59

Disciplining students

0.47

  

Student behavior c (α = 0.88)

 

To what extent is each of the following a problem in this school?

 

Student tardiness

0.77

Student absenteeism

0.85

Student class cutting

0.78

Students dropping out

0.73

Student apathy

0.76

Lack of parental involvement

0.77

Students come to school unprepared to learn

0.77

  

Notes. The SASS final teacher weights were used. a Original Likert scale responses coded as 1= strongly agree, 2 = somewhat agree, 3 = somewhat disagree, and 4 = strongly disagree. For easier interpretation, the codes were reversed so that higher values represent higher levels of agreement. b Likert scale responses coded as 1 = no influence, 2 = minor influence, 3 = moderate influence, and 4 = a great deal of influence. c Likert scale responses coded as 1 = serious problem, 2 = moderate problem, 3 = minor problem, and 4 = not a problem.


In assessing teachers’ opportunities for professional development, the SASS questionnaire asked for the hours teachers spent on six different professional development activities in the preceding 12 months. The responses were ordinal (0 = none; 1 = 8 hours or less; 2 = 9–16 hours; 3 = 17–32 hours; and 4 = 33 hours or more). A professional development variable generated through factor analysis was proved to have low internal reliability since these items measure different latent constructs. I therefore used the median of the six ordinal variables to create a composite variable for professional development. The last working conditions variable, workload, was captured by the survey item, “Including hours spent during the school day, before and after school, and on the weekends, how many hours do you spend on ALL teaching and other school-related activities during a typical FULL WEEK at THIS school?” Using this information, I created a dichotomous variable indicating whether a teacher worked more than 50 hours per week, the median score for all teachers.


Variables for teachers’ organizational and professional commitment were also generated from questions in the SASS public teacher questionnaire. Table 2 shows the survey items used and their associated factor loadings for each variable pertaining to teacher commitment. Again, items that are negatively coded in the questionnaire were rescored in a positive direction. The survey item “How long do you plan to remain in teaching?” was also recoded so that higher values represented a stronger desire to remain in teaching, as shown in Table 2.


Table 2. Measures for Teacher Commitment: Survey Items, Factor Loadings, and Reliabilities


Variable

Factor loadings

Organizational commitment (α = 0.75)

 

To what extent do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements?

 

I am generally satisfied with being a teacher at this school. a

0.87

The stress and disappointments involved in teaching at this school aren’t really worth it.

0.78

I think about transferring to another school.

0.74

I think about staying home from school because I’m just too tired to

go.

0.53

  

Professional commitment (α = 0.73)

 

If you could go back to your college days and start over again, would you become a teacher or not? a

0.81

If I could get a higher paying job I’d leave teaching as soon as possible.

0.74

I don’t seem to have as much enthusiasm now as I did when I began teaching.

0.66

How long do you plan to remain in teaching? b

0.53

  

Note. The SASS final teacher weights were used. a Original Likert scale responses were reversely coded. For easier interpretation, the items were recoded so that higher values correspond with a stronger desire to become a teacher again. b The item is recoded so that high values represent a greater desire to remain in teaching. 1- Definitely plan to leave as soon as I can; 2- Undecided at this time; 3- Until I am eligible for retirement benefits from this job, until I am eligible for retirement benefits from a previous job, until I am eligible for Social Security benefits, until a specific life event occurs (e.g., parenthood, marriage), until a more desirable job opportunity comes along; 4- As long as I am able.


MODEL SPECIFICATIONS


I used HLMs to establish the relationship between charter schools and teacher commitment because of the nested structure of teacher and school data in this study. That is, individual teachers’ perceptions of working conditions within the same school were interdependent because of shared experiences within the school and because of the ways in which individual teachers were initially drawn into the school. HLMs incorporate data for teachers and schools in a multilevel nested structure that simultaneously allows for assessing teacher perceptions by individual teachers and by schools (Raudenbush & Bryk, 2002). The HLM software (v 6.08) also takes into account the design effect arising from the multistage complex sampling of the SASS by incorporating weights for both teachers and schools in the analysis.  


Five sets of HLM models were developed to examine whether teacher commitment differs between charter schools and TPSs; how teacher characteristics, school contextual factors, and teachers’ perceptions of working conditions contribute to the difference; and finally, whether these variables differentially influence teacher commitment in charter schools and TPSs. The first set of models, Model (1), investigates the relationship between charter schools and teacher commitment and can be expressed as:


Level 1:  TCij = β0j + rij    rij~N(0, σ2)

(1)

Level 2:  β0j = γ00 + γ01 (charter)j  + δk + u0j   u0j ~N(0, τ00)   

(2)


The level-1 unit of analysis is the teacher and the level-2 unit is the school. Equation 1 describes the level-1 model, where the outcome variable TCij is the teacher commitment, measured as organizational commitment and professional commitment, for teacher i in school j. As Equation 2 shows, the regression intercept β0j in the level-1 model for each school is conceived as the outcome variable at level-2, which is a function of whether the school is a charter school or not. In this parsimonious model, the estimated coefficient γ01 captures the mean difference of teacher commitment between charter schools and TPSs. In addition, a set of state dummy variables, δk, were included in all models to control for state fixed effects, since all states have different state policies and charter school laws that might systematically influence teachers' perceptions of teacher commitment. To further explore whether charter school type makes a difference in teacher commitment, two variables, operational years of charter schools and the authorization of charter schools, were initially included in the model. They were excluded later because no differential effects of these two variables were found on either dimension of teacher commitment. Final weights for both teachers and schools were incorporated at both levels and in all of the HLM estimations.


Model 2 added teacher characteristics to the level-1 model, while the school-level model remained the same as Equation 2:


Level 1:  TCij = β0j + Σβkj (teacher characteristicsk) ij + rij    rij~N(0, σ2)

(3)


Teacher characteristics include gender, race, teaching experience (dichotomized with beginning teachers defined as teaching 3 or fewer years), educational attainment (master’s degree or not), selectivity of undergraduate institutions (Barron’s Admissions Competitiveness Indices: 1—most competitive to 6—noncompetitive), teaching certification2 (yes or no), teaching grades (elementary or secondary/combined), union membership (yes or no), and teacher salary. Teacher salary was used in the logarithm form to account for any diminishing marginal effects of teacher pay on teacher commitment.


Model 3 builds on Model 2 to control for school contextual factors. The teacher level model remained the same as Equation 3, while the school-level model is as follows:


Level 2:  β0j = γ00 +γ01 (charter)j +Σγ0q (school contextual factorsq)j +δk +u0j    u0j ~N(0, τ00)

βkj = γk0        for k = 1, …, K

 

(4)


School contextual factors include percentage of students eligible for the free/reduced lunch program (FRL), percentage of minority students, percentage of students with individual education plans (IEPs), percentage of students with limited English proficiency (LEP), school size, and school location (urban, suburban, and rural). The fourth set of models further includes teacher working conditions variables in the level-1 model to detect whether teachers’ perceptions of working conditions affected their organizational and professional commitment. The level-2 model remained the same as in Equation 4, while the level-1 model is expressed as:


Level 1: TCij = β0j + Σβkj(teacher characteristicsk)ij +

Σβmj(teacher working conditionsm) ij + rij    rij~N(0, σ2)

           

(5)


Finally, to further detect whether teacher characteristics, school contextual factors, and teacher working conditions predict teacher commitment differently between charter schools and TPSs, a set of slope-as-outcome models were estimated. For example, to detect differential effects of working conditions on teacher commitment, the level-1 model remained the same as Equation 5, while the school-level models were expanded to incorporate the cross-level interactions of the dichotomous charter school variable and each of the six working conditions variables.


Level 2:  β0j = γ00 +γ01 (charter)j +Σγ0q  (school contextual factorsq)j + δk +u0j    u0j ~N(0, τ00)

Βmj = γm0 + γm1 (charter)j

for m=1, …, 6

βkj = γk0        for k = 1, …, K

(6)


Modeling differential effects for teacher characteristics and school contextual factors are similar to the interaction models for teacher working conditions. The model specifications are not detailed here and the results are not reported later, however, because none of the teacher characteristics and school contextual factors showed any differential effects on teacher commitment between charter schools and TPSs.


RESULTS


DESCRIPTIVE STATISTICS


Table 3 shows a comparison of teacher and school characteristics between charter schools and TPSs in the sample. Compared to TPSs, charter schools tended to serve significantly higher percentages of minority students and low income students. This is partly because charter schools are more likely to be located in urban areas, where student populations are more diverse than in suburban and rural areas. Charter schools were significantly smaller than TPSs in terms of student enrollment. Also, they were less likely to be secondary schools but were more likely to be schools with some combination of elementary and secondary grades.


Compared to their TPS peers, charter school teachers were significantly younger and had fewer years of teaching experience. In fact, the percentage of novice teachers that had no more than three years of teaching in charter schools was twice as high as in TPSs. In addition, teachers in charter schools were less likely to be special education teachers. They were much less likely to hold a master’s degree or a teaching certificate than TPS teachers. Given these different characteristics, it is not surprising that charter school teachers earned significantly less than their TPS counterparts. Further, charter school teachers tended to graduate from more competitive institutions than TPS teachers, although the difference is slight. While more than 80% of TPS teachers belonged to a teachers’ union, only a small fraction of charter school teachers (22%) were union members.


Table 3. School and Teacher Characteristics in Charter Schools and Traditional Public Schools

 

TPS

Charter

Difference

School contextual factors a

   

% Black students

13.4

31.7

18.3**

% Hispanic students

19.8

25.6

5.8**

% FRL

45.0

65.5

20.5**

% IEP

12.3

11.0

-1.4**

% LEP

9.2

10.2

1.1**

School size

597

328

-269**

% urban

22.7

58.0

35.3**

% suburban

52.8

33.8

-19.0**

% rural

24.5

8.2

-16.3**

% elementary

75.9

76.0

0.1   

% secondary

20.3

12.7

-7.6**

% combined

3.8

11.3

7.4**

N (weighted) b

62,620

2,180

 
    

Teacher characteristics c

   

Male (%)

23.9

22.2

-1.7**

Age

42.0

37.0

-5.0**

Black (%)

6.0

12.0

6.1**

Hispanic (%)

8.3

11.0

2.7**

Asian (%)

1.2

2.2

1.0**

Barron’s rating d

4.05

3.95

0.1**

Master degree and above (%)

50.6

28.0

-22.6**

Elementary

59.7

74.3

14.6**

Secondary

48.7

46.0

-2.7**

Beginning teacher (%)

16.8

34.8

18.1**

Certified (%)

93.2

78.4

-14.8**

Special education (%)

11.2

6.3

-4.9**

Teacher salary ($)

52,425

41,780

-10,645**

Union (%)

79.8

22.2

-57.6**

Class size

23.0

22.5

-0.5**

N (weighted) b

2,197,090

42,510

 
    

Notes: a weighted by the SASS school final weight. b The sample sizes are rounded to the nearest 10 for the NCES confidentiality purposes. c weighted by the SASS teacher final weight. d Selectivity of undergraduate institutions (1= most competitive to 6 = noncompetitive). Statistical differences between charters and TPSs are decided by t tests.* p < .05. ** p < .01.


Table 4 compares teachers’ perceptions of working conditions and teacher commitment between charter schools and TPSs. TPS teachers reported higher levels of principal leadership, greater opportunities for professional development, and lighter workloads than charter school teachers. On the other hand, charter school teachers perceived greater community and collegiality, more classroom autonomy, and better student behaviors in their schools than TPS teachers. As for teacher commitment, charter school teachers reported significantly lower organizational commitment (difference = 0.32 SDs) than TPS teachers but a similar level of professional commitment (difference = 0.01 SDs).


Table 4. Teacher Working Conditions and Teacher Commitment in Charter Schools and Traditional Public Schools

 

TPSs

Charter Schools

Difference

Teachers’ perceptions of working conditions

   

Principal leadership/administrative support

.014

-.049

-.063**

Sense of community and collegiality

.014

.036

.022**

Autonomy in classroom

-.001

.013

.014**

Student behavior

.033

.214

.181**

Professional development

.842

.792

-.050**

Workload > 50 hours per week  

.462

.558

.096**

    

Teacher commitment

   

Organizational commitment

.027

-.293

-.321**

Professional commitment

.035

.023

-.012*

    

See Table 3 for notes.


HLM RESULTS


Before running the conditional HLM models described earlier, I estimated unconditional models, in which teacher commitment was the outcome variable at level-1 and no predictors were involved in either level-1 or level-2 models, except for the state fixed effects at level 2. The results are presented in Table 5. The intraclass correlation was 0.18 for organizational commitment and 0.05 for professional commitment. In other words, approximately 18% of the variance in teacher commitment to the school organization lies between schools, while only 5% of the variance in teacher commitment to the teaching profession can be explained by between-school differences. This implies that school contexts and in-school organizational conditions make a much larger difference to teachers’ organizational commitment than to their professional commitment.


Table 5. HLM Results of the Unconditional Models for Teacher Commitment

Organizational commitment

    

Fixed effects

Coefficient

SE

T-ratio

P

intercept

0.012713

0.01051

1.21

0.227

     

Random effects

Variance component

df

Chi-square

P

Between-school variability

0.17026

4,340

9194.846

0.000

Within-school variability

0.78552

   

Intraclass correlation

0.178479

   
     

Professional commitment

    

Fixed effects

Coefficient

SE

T-ratio

P

intercept

-0.00692

0.009282

-0.746

0.456

     

Random effects

Variance

component

df

Chi-square

p

Between-school variability

0.04452

4,340

6303.387

0.000

Within-school variability

0.89966

   

Intraclass correlation

0.047152

   

Note. State fixed effects are included at level-2 models.

Charter School and Teacher Commitment


A series of conditional models were then estimated to find out how different factors explain away variance of the two dimensions of teacher commitment at both teacher and school levels. Table 6 and Table 7 present the results of Models 1 through 4, which were built sequentially by introducing the charter school variable, teacher characteristics, school contextual factors, and teacher working conditions variables.


As the results in Model 1 of Table 6 show, the coefficient of the charter school variable was negative and significant, indicating that charter schools had 0.40 SD lower levels of organizational commitment than TPSs, after controlling for state fixed effects. The coefficient remained similar in Model 2, suggesting that, although teacher characteristics differed considerably between charter schools and TPSs, they failed to explain much of the difference in organizational commitment between teachers in the two types of schools. By contrast, after controlling for school contextual factors, the coefficient of the charter school variable was -0.25 (p < 0.01), suggesting that school context variables explained a large proportion of the observed difference in organizational commitment between charter and TPS teachers. Including teacher working conditions variables in Model 4, however, led to only a slight decrease in the coefficient for the charter school variable. As I will explain later, this does not indicate that teachers’ working conditions have little power in influencing teacher commitment. Table 7 shows the results for professional commitment. Although the magnitude of the charter coefficient became larger after controlling for teacher characteristics, school factors, and teacher working conditions variables, it remained insignificant throughout the Models 1 to 4. This indicates that teachers in charter schools and TPSs perceive similar levels of professional commitment.  


Table 6. HLM Analysis of the Effect of Charter School on Organizational Commitment


 

Model 1

Model 2

Model 3

Model 4

     

Teacher-level

    

Male

 

-0.05 (0.022)*

-0.05 (0.022)*

-0.06 (0.017)**

Black

 

-0.12 (0.057)*

0.06 (0.063)

-0.06 (0.046)

Hispanic

 

-0.10 (0.056)

0.00 (0.057)

0.02 (0.041)

Barron’s rating

 

0.02 (0.012)

0.02 (0.012)

0.00 (0.008)

Masters and above

 

-0.05 (0.023)*

-0.06 (0.023)*

-0.03 (0.017)

Elementary

 

0.10 (0.025)**

0.10 (0.028)**

-0.03 (0.020)

Beginning teacher

 

0.06 (0.030)*

0.08 (0.030)**

-0.02 (0.024)

Certified

 

0.03 (0.015)*

0.04 (0.015)**

0.02 (0.010)*

Special education

 

-0.02 (0.035)

-0.02 (0.035)

-0.04 (0.024)

Ln (Salary)

 

0.21 (0.051)**

0.26 (0.052)**

0.15 (0.041)**

Union

 

-0.05 (0.032)

-0.03 (0.031)

0.04 (0.021)

Class size

 

0.00 (0.001)

0.00 (0.001)

0.00 (0.001)

Principal leadership

   

0.47 (0.012)**

Sense of collegiality

   

0.15 (0.011)**

Autonomy in classroom

   

0.12 (0.009)**

Student behavior

   

0.14 (0.011)**

Workload

   

-0.04 (0.017)**

Professional development

   

0.03 (0.010)*

School-level

    

Intercept

0.01 (0.010)

-0.01 (0.011

-0.02 (0.011)

-0.03 (0.007)**

Charter

-0.40 (0.089)**

-0.41 (0.089**

-0.25 (0.089)**

-0.24 (0.060)**

% Black

  

-0.63 (0.079)**

-0.20 (0.053)**

% Hispanic

  

-0.35 (0.098)**

-0.14 (0.067)*

% FRL

  

-0.24 (0.067)**

0.01 (0.048)

% IEP

  

-0.14 (0.158)

-0.03 (0.094)

% LEP

  

0.10 (0.146)

0.15 (0.096)

School size

  

-0.02 (0.007)*

0.02 (0.005)**

Urban

  

0.03 (0.046)

-0.02 (0.029)

Suburban

  

0.07 (0.035)*

-0.02 (0.023)

Variance

    

Level-1

0.7852

0.7799

0.7809

0.4620

Level-2

0.1659

0.1456

0.1163

0.0324

Proportion of variance explained compared to the previous model

 

Level-1

 

0.7%

-0.1%

40.8%

Level-2

 

12.2%

20.1%

72.1%

Note: The robust standard error was used. The SASS final weights for schools and teachers were incorporated. * p < .05. ** p < .01. State fixed effects are included at level-2 models.


Table 7. HLM Analysis of the Effect of Charter School on Professional Commitment


 

Model 1

Model 2

Model 3

Model 4

     

Teacher-level

    

Male

 

-0.10 (0.024)**

-0.09 (0.024)**

-0.10 (0.022)**

Black

 

-0.03 (0.055)

0.04 (0.059)

-0.04 (0.054)

Hispanic

 

-0.11 (0.061)

-0.07 (0.061)

-0.06 (0.056)

Barron’s rating

 

0.00 (0.012)

0.01 (0.012)

0.00 (0.011)

Masters and above

 

-0.05 (0.024)*

-0.05 (0.024)*

-0.04 (0.022)

Elementary

 

0.07 (0.023)**

0.05 (0.027)*

-0.03 (0.025)

Beginning teacher

 

0.34 (0.031)**

0.34 (0.031)**

0.29 (0.030)**

Certified

 

0.04 (0.016)*

0.04 (0.016)*

0.03 (0.015)*

Special education

 

-0.02 (0.038)

-0.02 (0.038)

-0.04 (0.036)

Ln (Salary)

 

0.02 (0.051)

0.01 (0.053)

-0.07 (0.050)

Union

 

-0.03 (0.030)

-0.02 (0.030)

0.01 (0.027)

Class size

 

0.00 (0.001)

0.00 (0.001)

0.00 (0.001)

Principal leadership

   

0.23 (0.015)**

Sense of collegiality

   

0.07 (0.014)**

Autonomy in classroom

   

0.13 (0.012)**

Student behavior

   

0.11 (0.013)**

Workload

   

0.03 (0.023)

Professional development

   

0.06 (0.014)**

School-level

    

Intercept

0.01 (0.011)

-0.02 (0.009)*

-0.03 (0.010)**

-0.03 (0.009)**

Charter

-0.01 (0.066)

-0.07 (0.072)

-0.08 (0.074)

-0.12 (0.066)

% Black

  

-0.12 (0.071)

0.04 (0.064)

% Hispanic

  

-0.12 (0.088)

0.02 (0.079)

% FRL

  

-0.18 (0.062)**

-0.01 (0.057)

% IEP

  

-0.05 (0.130)

0.01 (0.131)

% LEP

  

0.14 (0.128)

0.18 (0.113)

School size

  

-0.01 (0.007)

0.01 (0.006)

Urban

  

0.06 (0.043)

0.04 (0.037)

Suburban

  

0.12 (0.033)**

0.07 (0.029)**

Variance

    

Level-1

0.8994

0.8718

0.8715

0.7626

Level-2

0.0489

0.0488

0.0439

0.0271

Proportion of variance explained compared to the previous model

 

Level-1

 

3.1%

0.0%

12.5%

Level-2

 

0.1%

10.2%

38.2%


See Table 6 for notes.


Teacher Characteristics and Teacher Commitment


As Table 6 and Table 7 indicate, male teachers tended to have lower organizational commitment (0.05–0.06 SDs) and professional commitment (0.09–0.10 SDs) than female teachers. Teachers’ race was not significantly related to teacher commitment after accounting for school contextual factors. As for professional background, teachers who held at least a master’s degree showed slightly lower organizational and professional commitment than teachers without a master’s degree, while certified teachers showed slightly higher commitment than uncertified teachers. Beginning teachers had significantly higher levels of commitment than more experienced teachers, as shown in most of the models. Teachers teaching elementary grades initially showed higher organizational and professional commitment than secondary teachers (0.10 SDs and 0.07 SDs, respectively), but not after teacher working conditions variables were added into Model 4. High salaries were positively related to organizational commitment (0.15 to 0.26 SDs) in all the models, but had no relationship with professional commitment. Graduating from more competitive colleges, teaching students with special needs, class size, and union membership had no significant association with organizational and professional commitment, as shown in most of the models in Tables 6 and 7.


Although many of the teacher characteristics examined were significantly related to teacher commitment, they explained only a fraction of the variance of teacher commitment. All of the teacher-level characteristics in Model 2 explained essentially none of the within-school variance and 12.2% of the between-school variance in Model 1 for organizational commitment, and 3.1% of the within-school variance for professional commitment.


School Context Factors and Teacher Commitment


As the results in Models 3 and 4 show, many school factors were significantly related to teacher commitment. Teachers in schools with higher percentages of Black, Hispanic, and low-income students tended to report significantly lower levels of teacher commitment. The magnitudes of these coefficients were larger for organizational commitment than for professional commitment. This is reasonable, since professional commitment is expected to have less connection with the context of a particular school where a teacher is employed. The effect of these student demographics lessened or became statistically insignificant, however, after accounting for teacher working conditions variables in Model 4. Suburban schools appeared to have higher teacher commitment than rural schools, as shown in Model 3. The effects vanished for organizational commitment, however, after controlling for the working conditions variables in Model 4 (Table 6). Together, all of the school-level characteristics that were examined explained 20.1% of the between-school variance for organizational commitment and 10.2% for professional commitment in Model 2.


Teachers’ Perceptions of Working Conditions and Teacher Commitment


Model 4 further accounted for teachers’ perceptions of their in-school working conditions. As the results in Tables 6 and 7 indicate, most of the teacher working conditions variables were significantly associated with teachers’ commitment. Perceived principal leadership was the strongest predictor for both organizational and professional commitment. Indeed, one SD increase in principal leadership as perceived by teachers was associated with .47 SDs (p < 0.01) increase in their organizational commitment and .23 SDs (p < 0.01) increase in professional commitment. Increased sense of collegiality, more classroom autonomy, and better student behavior were all strongly related to higher teacher commitment. Opportunities for professional development were positively associated with professional commitment (coefficient = 0.06, p < 0.01) and organizational commitment (coefficient = 0.03, p < 0.05). The coefficient for teachers’ workload was negative (coefficient = -0.04, p < 0.01) for organizational commitment, indicating that working more than 50 hours per week lowered the sense of organizational commitment by .04 SDs. Yet, workload seems to have had no association with teachers’ professional commitment.


The addition of working conditions variables in Model 4 improved Model 3 by explaining 40.8% of the variance at the teacher level and 72.1% of the variance at the school level for organizational commitment that were present in Model 3 (Table 6). It also explained much of the variance in professional commitment (12.5% for the teacher level and 38.2% for the school level), as Table 7 shows. This implies that perceived working conditions have much greater explanatory power for teacher commitment than teacher characteristics and school contextual factors. In addition, teacher working conditions not only predicted teachers’ loyalty to a certain school, they also affected teacher commitment to the teaching profession in general.


The coefficient of the charter school variable, however, changed only slightly from Model 3 to Model 4 for both dimensions of teacher commitment. This result may be because teachers in charter schools perceive their working conditions to be better in some aspects and worse in others than their peers in TPSs, leaving the overall influence of working conditions on teacher commitment similar between the two types of schools. For example, charter school teachers perceived more autonomy in the classroom, a greater sense of community and collegiality, and better student behavior in their schools. These desirable conditions helped to narrow the gap of teacher commitment between charter schools and TPSs. On the other hand, charter school teachers perceived lower levels of principal leadership, few opportunities for professional development, and a heavier workload, all of which negatively influenced teacher commitment in charter schools.


Differential Effect of Teacher Working Conditions in Charter Schools and TPSs.


From a policy perspective, exploring whether each component of teacher working conditions influences teacher commitment differently between charters and TPSs is worthwhile. Slope-as-outcome models were used for this exploration, where the cross-level interaction terms between the six components of teacher working conditions at level-1 and the charter school variable at level-2 were included, in addition to the full set of explanatory variables in Model 4. The coefficients on the charter variable, teacher working conditions variables, and their interactions are reported in Table 8. The coefficients on teacher and school variables closely resembled those in Model 4 and are not reported here.


Table 8. HLM Analysis of Differential Effects of Teachers’ Perceptions of Working Conditions on Teacher Commitment Between Charter Schools and TPSs   


Organizational  commitment

Professional commitment

   

Charter

-0.24 (0.065)**

-0.11 (0.069)

 

 

 

Principal leadership

0.47 (0.012)**

0.23 (0.015)**

Principal leadership * Charter

0.16 (0.062)**

0.04 (0.083)

   

Sense of collegiality

0.15 (0.011)**

0.07 (0.014)**

Sense of collegiality * Charter

-0.04 (0.058)

-0.09 (0.078)

   

Autonomy in classroom

0.12 (0.009)**

0.13 (0.012)**

Autonomy in classroom * Charter

0.09 (0.067)

-0.08 (0.056)

   

Student behavior

0.14 (0.011)**

0.11 (0.013)**

Student behavior * Charter

0.02 (0.047)

0.06 (0.060)

   

Workload

-0.04 (0.017)*

0.02 (0.023)

Workload * Charter

-0.02 (0.097)

-0.21 (0.108)*

   

Professional development

0.02 (0.010)*

0.06 (0.014)**

Professional development * Charter

-0.01 (0.060)

-0.05 (0.075)


Note: Only the coefficients on the charter school variable, teacher working conditions variables, and their interactions are reported. Although not reported here, both models control for the full set of teacher characteristics and school contextual factors. See Table 6 for other notes.


As presented in Table 8, the main effects of the charter school variable and all the working conditions variables remained very similar to those of Model 4, as shown in Tables 6 and 7, while the interaction terms showed some interesting results. For example, the coefficient for the interaction term between principal leadership and charter was positive and statistically significant for organizational commitment (coefficient = 0.16, p < 0.01), indicating an overall association between principal leadership and organizational commitment of 0.47 + 0.16 = 0.63 SDs for charter schools. This suggests that principal leadership plays an even more important role in improving teachers’ commitment to charter school than in TPSs. The interaction term of workload and charter was significant for professional commitment (coefficient = -0.21, p < 0.05), indicating a negative association between workload and professional commitment for charter school teachers, but not for TPS teachers.  


DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS


This study is the first to examine how teacher commitment differs between charter schools and TPSs, and how teacher characteristics, school contextual factors, and teachers’ perceptions of working conditions explain the differences in teacher commitment between these two types of schools. I identified two dimensions of teacher commitment, organizational commitment and professional commitment. One of this study’s strengths lies in its use of HLM methods that can address data at both the teacher and school levels. By using a nationally representative sample of charter schools with a rich set of variables, the results have high generalizability to all public schools providing regular education in the states where charter schools were sampled.


First, the descriptive statistics show that teachers in charter schools experienced significantly lower levels of organizational commitment (0.40 SDs) than their peers in TPSs, but similar levels of professional commitment. After accounting for teacher characteristics, school context factors, and teacher working conditions variables in the HLM models, charter school teachers were estimated to have lower organizational commitment (.24 SDs) than their TPS peers. Although professional commitment was also found to be lower (.12 SDs) in charter schools, it is not statistically significant. These finding are consistent with the high teacher turnover rates in charter schools found in previous research (Miron & Applegate, 2007; Stuit & Smith, 2012). Lower organizational commitment in charter schools suggests a greater likelihood that such teachers might transfer to another school. Although similar levels of professional commitment between charter and TPS teachers indicates similar likelihoods of them quitting teaching, transferring to another school is often not an option for charter school teachers upon leaving their school so that they have to leave the teaching profession. Low teacher commitment and high teacher turnover often lead to low instructional quality and organizational disruption, which may contribute to the mixed findings on charter schools’ performance.


Although charter schools and TPSs hire very different types of teachers and many teacher characteristics significantly predict teacher commitment, overall, teacher characteristics failed to explain much of the difference in teacher commitment between charter schools and TPSs. By contrast, the difference in organizational commitment between TPSs and charter schools decreased significantly after accounting for school contextual factors. Charter schools, on average, serve high percentages of low-income and minority students in urban areas. If educating disadvantaged students entails more intensive and demanding instructional strategies and more time for individual student problems, these experiences would inevitably affect teachers’ enthusiasm for teaching in the school.


Importantly, accounting for teacher working conditions attenuated the relationships between school contextual factors and organizational commitment. In particular, once teachers’ working conditions were entered in the HLM models, the size of the relationships between student demographics and organizational commitment decreased; some become insignificant, indicating that part of the low organizational commitment in charter schools can be mediated by school conditions, which are more malleable to change. In fact, among the three sets of explanatory variables, teachers’ perceptions of working conditions had much greater explanatory power than school contextual factors and teacher characteristics, not only for organizational commitment but also for professional commitment. Indeed, the teacher working conditions variables accounted for 50.5% of the total between-school variation of organizational commitment and 34.3% for professional commitment. This finding is consistent with previous research that many organizational conditions shape teachers’ commitment to their schools and the teaching profession (Chan et al., 2008; Johnson & Birkeland, 2003; Jones et al., 2013; Pogodzinski, Youngs, & Frank, 2013). It also supports the findings in recent literature that high rates of teacher turnover and low job satisfactions in schools serving poor, minority, and low-achieving students are not driven by these student characteristics but rather by the schools’ less favorable working conditions (Borman & Dowling, 2008; Boyd et al., 2011; Johnson, Kraft, & Papay, 2012; Ladd, 2011; Loeb, Darling-Hammond, & Luczak, 2005).


Among all teacher working conditions variables, principal leadership is the key to improving organizational and professional commitment. This confirms previous research results that leadership is the most important factor in predicting teachers’ intentional and actual retention decisions (Allensworth et al., 2009; Boyd et al., 2011; Ladd, 2011; Pogodzinski et al., 2012). In addition, the HLM models with the interaction terms suggest that principal leadership and workload may have larger effects on teacher commitment in charter schools than TPSs. This is consistent with previous research indicating that charter school principals’ greater decision-making power over internal school activities, as compared with their TPS peers, directly influences teachers’ daily practices, and therefore has a great impact on teacher commitment in charter schools (Gawlik, 2008). In addition, unlike TPS teachers, charter school teachers tend to assume multiple responsibilities. Many of these non-instructional responsibilities and unbounded claims on teachers’ time not only distract them from teaching but also lead to work overload and tensions with other teachers and administrators, which eventually diminish teachers’ commitment to school and to teaching (Johnson & Landman, 2000; Ni, 2012).


Finally, although working conditions variables explained the bulk of between-school variance of teacher commitment, accounting for these variables explained little of the difference in teacher commitment between charter schools and TPSs. This is because teachers in charter schools perceived a greater sense of collegiality, more autonomy, and better student behaviors when compared to their TPS peers. However, they perceived lower levels of principal leadership, fewer opportunities for professional development, and a heavier workload, leaving the influence of working conditions similar overall between the two types of schools.


There are several limitations related to the datasets and data analysis in this study that generate caveats in interpreting these findings. First, it should be noted that much of the difference in teacher commitment between charter schools and TPSs was left unexplained, even after accounting for all the teacher characteristics, school context factors, and teacher working conditions variables. This is especially true for teachers’ organizational commitment. Admittedly, the ability of the SASS survey instruments to measure all of the mechanisms through which charter schools might influence teacher commitment is limited. For example, many staffing practices such as hiring processes, teacher evaluation, and dismissal and promotion policies that might be systematically different between charter schools and TPSs are not included. In addition, in view of the great diversity among charter schools in terms of school mission, authorizing body, prior existing status (whether converted from TPSs), and management organization, it will be interesting to explore how these key features of charter policy design and implementation influence teacher commitment among charter schools. Furthermore, this study utilizes the 2007–2008 SASS data, when only 4,400 charter schools were in operation, enrolling 1.3 million students nationwide. Since the number of charter schools and their enrollment continue to grow every year, it will be interesting to see whether the same results hold with the newest cycle of 2011–2012 SASS data. Finally, many of the securities and advantages that TPS teachers had over charter teachers might be less prominent as traditional school systems increasingly experience more flexibility in teacher hiring/firing and more rigorous teacher evaluation. Future research is needed to explore how these new education policies influence teacher commitment in both charter schools and TPSs.


Despite these limitations, the findings from this study are very compelling, including the different working conditions perceived by charter school and TPS teachers, the importance of working conditions in influencing teacher commitment, and the differential effects of principal leadership and workload on teacher commitment between charter schools and TPSs. These findings provide important insights for improving teacher commitment in charter schools, especially those struggling with high levels of teacher turnover and low student performance. Most importantly, strengthening principal leadership in establishing school goals, building trust and positive school culture, managing resources, and supporting teaching and learning could be an important strategy to help individual teachers in charter schools to improve professional and organizational commitment. A second direction is to look for more effective strategies for encouraging teachers’ opportunities for learning in charter schools. As my analysis shows, about one third of charter school teachers were novice teachers, which is twice that of TPS teachers. The lack of professional development that focuses on all teachers’ individual interests and needs, especially for novice teachers, can be detrimental to their commitment to charter schools as well as to the teaching profession (Smith & Rowley, 2005). Furthermore, strategically alleviating teachers’ workloads, freeing them from non-instructional responsibilities, and protecting their time can potentially improve teacher commitment in charter schools.


Examining both professional and organizational commitment helps us in understanding teacher turnover patterns and student performance in charter schools. Regardless of teacher characteristics and school contexts, the relationship between teachers’ perceptions of working conditions and teacher commitment implies that improving working conditions in charter schools can improve teacher commitment, and therefore help to retain teachers in these schools. While this study does not directly address the relationship between teacher commitment and student achievement, understanding how organizational conditions and practices may make a difference in charter school effectiveness is a significant step. Future research that directly investigates how teacher commitment influences student outcomes and whether different forms of teacher commitment have different effects on student outcomes would put us in a better position to understand how to improve education quality, not only in charter schools but in all schools.


Acknowledgments


This research was funded by the National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship Program.


Notes


1. The numbers of teachers and schools are rounded to the nearest 10 for NCES confidentiality.

2. Teacher certificate is a dichotomous variable derived from T0160 in the public school teacher questionnaire. Teachers with “regular or standard state certificate or advanced professional certificate” or “certificate issued after satisfying all requirements except the completion of a probationary period” are considered certified. Otherwise, they are considered uncertified.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 119 Number 6, 2017, p. 1-38
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21850, Date Accessed: 12/7/2021 10:11:38 AM

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About the Author
  • Yongmei Ni
    University of Utah
    E-mail Author
    YONGMEI NI, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Utah. Her research interests include economics of education, educational policy, and quantitative research methods. Her recent and ongoing work examines how school choice affects student outcomes through influencing teacher working conditions, teacher commitment, and principal turnover. Her recent publications include: Ni, Y., Sun, M., & Rorrer, A. (2015). Principal turnover: Upheaval and uncertainty in charter schools? Educational Administration Quarterly, 51(3), 409–437. Ni, Y., & Rorrer, A. (2012). Twice considered: Charter schools and student achievement in Utah. Economics of Education Review, 31(5), 835–849.
 
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