I’m not a fan of charter schools: they typically ‘cherry pick’ the best students, and then claim spectacular results (if they can do so at all), while paying teachers less and expected them to work even harder. However, here’s one charter school trying something that I hope works–paying teachers more:
A New York City charter school set to open in 2009 in Washington Heights will test one of the most fundamental questions in education: Whether significantly higher pay for teachers is the key to improving schools.
The school, which will run from fifth to eighth grades, is promising to pay teachers $125,000, plus a potential bonus based on schoolwide performance. That is nearly twice as much as the average New York City public school teacher earns, roughly two and a half times the national average teacher salary and higher than the base salary of all but the most senior teachers in the most generous districts nationwide.
…In exchange for their high salaries, teachers at the new school, the Equity Project, will work a longer day and year and assume responsibilities that usually fall to other staff members, like attendance coordinators and discipline deans. To make ends meet, the school, which will use only public money and charter school grants for all but its building, will scrimp elsewhere.
The school will open with seven teachers and 120 students, most of them from low-income Hispanic families. At full capacity, it will have 28 teachers and 480 students. It will have no assistant principals, and only one or two social workers. Its classes will have 30 students. In an inversion of the traditional school hierarchy that is raising eyebrows among school administrators, the principal will start off earning just $90,000. In place of a menu of electives to round out the core curriculum, all students will take music and Latin. Period.
….The school’s teachers will be selected through a rigorous application process outlined on its Web site, http://www.tepcharter.org, and run by Mr. Vanderhoek. There will be telephone and in-person interviews, and applicants will have to submit multiple forms of evidence attesting to their students’ achievement and their own prowess; only those scoring at the 90th percentile in the verbal section of the GRE, GMAT or similar tests need apply. The process will culminate in three live teaching auditions.
The reason I think this might work is because it is somewhat similar to the education I received. My school did not have very well-equipped science labs, extravagant athletic facilities, or lots of electives. What it did have was excellent teachers. The reason it had excellent teachers wasn’t due to the salaries. I was fortunate to be one of the last student cohorts in the U.S. to be taught by overqualified women (and almost all of my teachers were women) who, five or ten years later, would have had many more career options. In other words, we used to have tremendous teaching talent on the cheap because there was an exploitable group with few options.
This America does not exist anymore. Instead, this is the economic universe in which teachers dwell (italics mine):
Claudia Taylor, 29, applied to the Equity Project even though, she said, the thought of leaving the Harlem Village Academy, the charter school where she teaches reading, “breaks my heart.”
“I’m tired of making decisions about whether or not I can afford to go to a movie on a Friday night when I work literally 55 hours a week,” Ms. Taylor said. “It’s very frustrating. I’m feeling like I either have to leave New York City or leave teaching, because I don’t want to have a roommate at 30 years old.”
For too long, the U.S. educational system’s salary structure (and administrative structure) has been trapped in the past. If you want high quality, professional teachers, you have to pay them what they’re worth. Here’s where teachers’ salaries fall out:
I hope this experiment works.