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Bruno: Massive Turnover Isn't "Corporate Reform", Either

Turnover_cherryI've written before about my distaste for the term "corporate reform", since it implicitly - and often unnecessarily - concedes the idea that the reformers' agenda consists mostly of implementing ideas that have been demonstrated to be effective in the private sector. Now, via Stephen Sawchuck, I see a new study indicating  that "there is a disruptive effect of turnover" that hurts achievement "particularly...in schools with more low-performing and black students".

This is a striking finding given the extent to which education reform often relies on increasing staff turnover in various ways, whether through the weakening of tenure, school turnarounds, or parent trigger laws. Rhetoric about "corporate reform" notwithstanding, do we often see corporations adopting these sorts of heavily pro-turnover policies? 

On the contrary, while corporations typically have more flexible hiring and firing policies than traditional public schools, they're also generally turnover averse. This is because they recognize that the relationship between turnover and performance is complex, but generally negative. (This is true even if you distinguish between voluntary and involuntary turnover.) The direct and indirect costs of staff turnover are considerable, so firms have to be pretty sure that the replacement hires are going to be both significantly better and unlikely to turn over themselves so that the firm can earn a return on its personnel investment. [See a recent New Yorker article on retail turnover here.]

The attitude in the private sector toward turnover stands in stark contrast to that of many education reformers, who seem to think of turnover as an intervention of first resort rather than a significant problem to be remediated. Yes, turnover can, in some cases, be a good thing, but only if you've first established a workable strategy for hiring and retaining new talent over the long term.

(I'd also argue that this study highlights the need for LIFO reform, but that's another story.) - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)

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