One of the things that I’ve long suspected about charter schools is that they’re an unsustainable model: they rely on incredibly motivated teachers (who I think are a pretty motivated lot to begin with) who are willing to work even longer hours for essentially the same pay (or sometimes less). I’m not sure how to scale that up. Even if there were a significant number of teachers who fit this description, it’s not clear how long they could remain like this.
Not only is there a real possibility of burning out, but, as teachers get older, other considerations–legitimate ones–come to the fore. How am I going to pay for my own kids’ education? How will I pay for a house? In many cases, the pensions at charter schools aren’t great either, so retirement becomes a concern. This isn’t greedy, but a reasonable concern for one’s own family.
To put it more cynically, to a certain extent, charter schools have struck me as exploitative as much of the rest of the economy: how can we increase productivity without passing on those benefits to workers? Granted, teachers don’t produce a tangible, sellable good. Yet, asking them to do more for the same pay, is an analogous form of exploitation.
So I found this recent NY Times article about unionization in charter schools to be very interesting. While the article focuses largely on this issue as a teacher’s unionization drive, there was some discussion of compensation and work loads:
Moves toward unionizing have revealed greater teacher unrest than was previously known.
“I was frustrated with all the turnover among staff, with the lack of teacher input, with working longer and harder than teachers at other schools and earning less,” said Jennifer Gilley, a social studies teacher at the Ralph Ellison Campus of the Chicago International Charter School, who said she made $38,000 as a base salary as a starting teacher, compared with about $43,500 paid by the Chicago Public Schools.
….in Chicago, where students at several Chicago International campuses have scores among the city’s highest for nonselective schools, teachers began organizing last fall after an administrator increased workloads to six classes a day from five, said Emily Mueller, a Spanish teacher at Northtown Academy.
“We were really proud of the scores, and still are,” Ms. Mueller said. “But the workload, teaching 160 kids a day, it wasn’t sustainable. You can’t put out the kind of energy we were putting out for our kids year after year.”
For too long, we have been working under an old model, where over-qualified, well educated women had few options–teaching had a very talented and cheap work force. We need to realize that teaching is a skilled profession and should be compensated as such, regardless of the school administrative structure.