June 9, 2009

An Experiment to Watch

Justin Katz

Supporters have presented charter schools as an educational laboratory, and here's a major test:

They are members of an eight-teacher dream team, lured to an innovative charter school that will open in Washington Heights in September with salaries that would make most teachers drop their chalk and swoon; $125,000 is nearly twice as much as the average New York City public school teacher earns, and about two and a half times as much as the national average for teacher salaries. They also will be eligible for bonuses, based on schoolwide performance, of up to $25,000 in the second year.

The school, called the Equity Project, is premised on the theory that excellent teachers — and not revolutionary technology, talented principals or small class size — are the critical ingredient for success. Experts hope it could offer a window into some of the most pressing and elusive questions in education: Is a collection of superb teachers enough to make a great school? Are six-figure salaries the way to get them? And just what makes a teacher great?

With that sort of money on the table, some tweaks in the process whereby professionals in other fields can make the transition to teaching — providing the system with the lubricant of vouchers — could catapult our nation's education system to where it needs to be.

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I don't totally agree. Yeah, the six figure salary would draw people to the job, but what keeps them motivated? If the theoretical goal would be to do this to 100% of the schools, and I mean why would it not be, then you're always going to have some bottom of the barrel teachers.

Once anyone gets used to their salary and lifestyle, they can get complacent. Bonuses are nice, but is there truly a way to judge the teachers? Especially with a small class size, just one or two misassigned students can drag the whole class down. Let's say the class has 10 students, and two of them are in over their heads. So the teacher spends extra time with those two, except teacher time is zero sum. Time away from those students is time away from the other eight.

I hope it works. Heck, I'd switch back to teaching if the salary was $125,000 a year. I've even considered going back simply for what they get now, in RI.

Posted by: Patrick at June 9, 2009 8:02 AM

Good idea. Let's put it in all the union contracts. Oops! I forgot, the real idea behind attempts such as these is to destroy unions - kids and teachers and broadening quality education for all are insignificant factors when compared to the delicious (for certain right wing neanderthals) idea of crushing unions.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at June 9, 2009 9:50 AM

So,OTL....have you belonged to a union?
I was a union member for 26 years,but I'm sure you'll find some way to claim that is irrelevant to any conversation I might join on the subject.
I'm a little(make that a lot)sick and tired of leftists always trying to make others justify themselves.I think most of you have a false sense of your own moral superiority.I think it's bullsh*t.
Morality is distributed across the board,kind of like intelligence.

Posted by: joe bernstein at June 9, 2009 10:32 AM

In theory, the very best cream-of-the-crop teachers making the best money is a great idea. We all love meritocracy.
In reality, it'll be a low-hanging pinata for talk radio (how DARE teachers make $125K, union or not, circumstances and details be damned!).

Posted by: rhody at June 9, 2009 11:30 AM

Wow, only a leftist whacko would complain about someone who wants to give more than the union can get for themselves. I'm really tired hearing your fallback statement "You're trying to bust the unions. Give it a rest!

Posted by: bobc at June 9, 2009 11:35 AM

Bob-forget the leftists.They're so full of crap they could open a fertilizer cartel.I just got called a troll on kmareka.com and told to "move on"(I love it when they treaten)by one "Jesse From Cranston"not using a real name.And calling me a troll.I think the time has come to let the leftists know that they don't get to call the tune and hold others' feet to the fire when they are guilty of supporting animalistic regimes around the world.They are uncommonly a preachy bunch.

Posted by: joe bernstein at June 9, 2009 7:04 PM

I worked for the state of Rhode Island for a while and was in the union when so employed. I found some policies and procedures that I did not agree with. I thought that some of the union hierarchy was out of touch, but on the whole I was happy to pay my dues in support of union efforts.

Do you think that you would be partaking in the benefits that you undoubtedly receive if you hadn't been a member of a union?


Posted by: OldTimeLefty at June 10, 2009 8:10 AM

I wonder what the reaction would be if the union and management in one of our "wealthier communities" agreed to up the wage scale 20% or so, and filled all new positions by recruiting the most experienced teachers from the other RI school districts, and drove even more funds into lowering class size and ensuring state of the art facilities and equipment to make the assignments better educationally and more attractive.

Would they get credit for doing the best for their own community, or would there be outrage that they "poached" the most experienced teachers from districts that need them?

Posted by: Bob Walsh at June 10, 2009 8:29 AM


First, I'd point out that the "experiment" with teachers' salaries in the charter school above is explicitly positioned against: "revolutionary technology, talented principals or small class size." You're insisting on everything. It's interesting to note, in this line, that Rhode Island teachers' unions have been managing to suck money out of infrastructure budgets without a notable improvement in the quality of teachers. Talk about reasons for outrage!

Second, the missing component in your construct is the possibility of such a district's loosening the gauntlet through which would-be teachers must pass. Your hypothetical district could certainly look for talent elsewhere than in other districts.

Posted by: Justin Katz at June 10, 2009 8:38 AM

Justin, you have no justification for asserting that "teachers' unions have been managing to suck money out of infrastructure budgets without a notable improvement in the quality of teachers." I live in South Kingstown and am proud of the fact that our tax money has produced results that show that the reading, math, writing and SAT scores have shown continual improvement. Either that happened accidentally or providentially, or the teachers in South Kingstown had something to do with it. Perhaps reflecting rather than refracting would shed more light upon the subject, but on this one you obviously prefer to refract since reflection would upset your predisposition.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at June 10, 2009 12:56 PM

Actually, I do have justification. For the "soaking up" part, see here. For the "notable improvement," I don't have the time, just now, to dig for the required data (historical data would be most applicable), but the penultimate paragraph of this post on SAT scores is relevant:

Of course, to some degree, income, private school attendance, public school teacher pay, and SAT scores all correlate, but Rhode Island stands out, in this regard: We've got an average median income, but the fifth highest public school teacher pay, the second highest private school student percentage, and the third lowest public school cumulative SAT score (despite the sixth highest private school cumulative SAT score). Take especial note of the coexistence of average wealth and high private school attendance.
Posted by: Justin Katz at June 10, 2009 1:19 PM

I think the search would start in other districts - easiest to find those with a track record, and already "in the business." In RI, Coventry was the first to pay a sizable stipend for teachers with National Board Certification, and managed to entice several teachers from other districts who had the credential. I have been pondering the question again since the article appeared.

Posted by: Bob Walsh at June 10, 2009 11:09 PM

OTL- I think you missed my point.I certainly did benefit in many ways from belonging to a public employees' union.Such unions are there first and foremost to ensure such things as workplace safety,grievance procedures,and fair labor practices.In addition they act as a barrier to capricious adverse decisions by management.
The difference between public sector and private sector unions is that the taxpayers are the employers in the first instance,but have no say in the hiring process.Therefore, strikes by public employees are not justified.
In the private sector,employers hire workers so they can make a profit.The workers have every right to strike if they think they are being treated unfailry.The public has no dog in that fight.
I asked you if you had been a union member simply to determine if you were holding forth from actual experience or just pontificating.So now you answered my question.

Posted by: joe bernstein at June 11, 2009 10:25 AM
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