Thursday, June 11, 2009

Putting Your Money Where it Should Do the Most Good

Imagine a school where the most money is invested in the greatest classroom asset - the teacher...


I mean invested in such a way that the teacher is paid like an education professional and not a clerk! Men and women might aspire to, well, be real teachers!

Most teachers I know, don't go into it for the money. But, as I heard someone say at one time, there ought to be some money in it for them.

A charter school in New York, The Equity Project, proposes to transform education by paying teachers a livable salary for their profession, giving them greater responsibilities - multiple roles, additional school days and a longer school year - and holding them accountable for doing what they have been trained to do - educate children.

"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."

"The school’s creator and first principal, Zeke M. Vanderhoek, contends that high salaries will lure the best teachers. He says he wants to put into practice the conclusion reached by a growing body of research: that teacher quality — not star principals, laptop computers or abundant electives — is the crucial ingredient for success."

"“I would much rather put a phenomenal, great teacher in a field with 30 kids and nothing else than take the mediocre teacher and give them half the number of students and give them all the technology in the world,” said Mr. Vanderhoek, 31, a Yale graduate and former middle school teacher who built a test preparation company that pays its tutors far more than the competition.""

"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."

According to their website, The Equity Project Chart School has, spent "...over 15 months recruiting master teachers who meet eight rigorous qualifications. These teachers will then meet TEP’s redefined expectations. These expectations center on (a) a professional work-day that includes daily peer observations and co-teaching (b) a work-year that includes an annual 6-week Summer Development Institute, and (c) a career arc that fosters professional growth through a mandatory sabbatical once every five or six years. These redefined expectations are unified by one principle: student achievement is maximized when teachers have the time and support to constantly improve their craft."

Teachers are required to meet high qualification standards to work at the school, which includes:
  1. Expert Subject-Area Knowledge
  2. Teaching Expertise and Experience
  3. Strong Curriculum Development Ability
  4. Outstanding Verbal Ability
Will that be enough to challenge conventional notions of what it takes to provide quality education in schools, especially urban public schools? Time will tell.

But if successful it could say something else about what it means to really educate children. It means that not only do you have engage students, you also have to have teachers who see the classroom as something more than a stepping stone to administration, because that's where the money is.

It could also speak volumes regarding who is and who isn't necessary when it comes to education.

"Mr. Vanderhoek’s school, which was approved by the city’s Education Department and the State Board of Regents, is poised to be one of the country’s most closely watched educational experiments, one that could pressure the city and its teachers’ union to rethink the pay for teachers in traditional schools", the New York Times article goes on to say.

"“This is an approach that has not been tried in this way in American education, and it opens up a slew of fascinating opportunities,” said Frederick M. Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. “That $125,000 figure could have a catalytic effect.”"

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