Friday, March 07, 2008

Good Jobs at Good Wages

I know, the employment report has no good news in it, but this front page story in The New York Times is sure to get some attention. The concept:

Would six-figure salaries attract better teachers?

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.

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.
I would much rather see that, too. At this school, teachers will be paid so well that they'll make more than the principal, an inversion which generated this:
Ernest A. Logan, president of the city principals’ union, called the notion of paying the principal less than the teachers “the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“It’s nice to have a first violinist, a first tuba, but you’ve got to have someone who brings them all together,” Mr. Logan said. “If you cheapen the role of the school leader, you’re going to have anarchy and chaos.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers, called the hefty salaries “a good experiment.” But she said that when teachers were not unionized, and most charter school teachers are not, their performance can be hampered by a lack of power in dealing with the principal. “What happens the first time a teacher says something like, ‘I don’t agree with you?’ ”

Presumably, the principal listens to what the teacher has to say and then makes a decision, which may or may not accommodate the teacher's disagreement. Millions of businesses, and even some educational institutions, operate on this principle. Those that operate in competitive markets don't prosper by ignoring good advice or treating talented employees as if they are inconsequential. And the teacher is not an indentured servant here--"nothing" prevents a teacher dissatisfied with a principal from starting a rival school with better policies.

The Age of Friedman is not dead yet.


Eugene Gordin said...

Thank you for this post. This is exactly the kind of support that teachers need. We need to make teaching lucrative again, and inspiring those that want to devote their lives to teaching with financial incentives is definitely a step in the right direction.

Sure, this is an isolated example, but let it be an example of future educational policy. I'd be the first in line.

Anonymous said...

I agree that teachers are underpaid in this country (no, I'm not a teacher).

Our family lived this experiment. A charter school opened locally, and they paid the teachers a much higher salary than the surrounding districts scale. They recruited some of the best teachers away from those public schools.

We decided to put our daughter into the charter school.

There were a number of problems -- the money to pay those teachers was diverted from funds that would have purchased books and equipment, etc. My daughter didn't have a math book, and the teacher claimed they didn't need one, for example. Other classes were also lacking textbooks. There was no hot lunch program, and very little in enrichment (no band or choir director, just a loose after school jazz band program). It was junior high level.

So the experiment was hobbled because it wasn't properly funded. I hope Mr. Vanderhoek can do better, but we had to pull our kid from the program after one semester. I was a volunteer in that school (nearly every day) so I saw what was going on . . . and there were many problems in spite of highly paid teachers.

Anonymous said...

There is no economic "law" that the principle (no matter how important) must make more than teachers.

NFL coaches often make less than their players. Why? Different labor markets.

Anonymous said...

Sounds great, particularly if it's linked to doing away with or substantially modifying tenure such that poor job performance can result in termination like everywhere else.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to say something that will be highly controversial. Especially given how much we covet academics. Our school systems have been awful since the beginning of time. Our students have been labeled stupid by the world. But, here's the point. Those who need to know what they need to know, know it.

In other words, those who are destined to win Nobel Prizes will find their way to college. Those who were destined to drive a rally in new technology such as Bill Gates will do so. Those who will be janitors will be janitors be it that they have no desire to achieve more, are fearful of risk or don't have the intellectual capital to be the next Albert Einstein.

What we learn in k-12 is generally forgotten and generally taught by those who are marginally more capable than the janitor.

It doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is that all children of all economic backgrounds are given the same opportunity so that social status does not determine future success or lack thereof.

A Red Mind in a Blue State said...

Nice to pay top teachers that money, but let me ask this--will it be for the same school year?

My experience on a public school board, as a parent of children who have gone through the system, as an employer, as a community leader--all tell me this:

We cannot possibly teach everything the kids need to know to function in this society in 180 days, 6 hours a day.

So does additional education time come with that 50% or so increase?

As I recall, the big educational study that came out during Reagan's years (I think it was "A Nation in Crisis" or something like that) called for significant increases in teacher pay AND increased school days/year.

Teachers got the raises-- we didn't get the time. Seems silly to make that same tragic deal again.

Anonymous said...

"What we learn in k-12 is generally forgotten and generally taught by those who are marginally more capable than the janitor. "

Good point. Since k-12 learning is forgotten anyway we should just eliminate all k-12 education and save the taxpayers a heap of money. Literacy is overrated.


Walter said...

Ok here is my take on this... If they are paying teachers more the implication is they will teach better? Its kind of insulting to my character, as if I am not teaching to the best of my ability because I am underpaid.

"I could get your child to read but they aren't paying me enough."

I do not think you would find this comment anywhere.

Anonymous said...

Walter, I think the implication is that by paying higher salaries to teachers we would get more talented people to choose teaching as a career.