The $125,000 teacher

Teachers will earn $125,000 a year at a charter middle school opening in New York City. They’ll be eligible for $25,000 bonuses. Six hundred teachers applied for eight  jobs at The Equity Project, which will target low-performing children in a Hispanic neighborhood.

Founder Zeke Vanderhoek, 32, looked for master teachers who can engage students and get the attention of “potential troublemakers,” reports the New York Times.

To make ends meet, teachers will hold responsibilities usually shouldered by other staff members, like assistant principals (there will be none). There will be no deans, substitute teachers (except for extended leaves) or teacher coaches. Teachers will work longer hours and more days, and have 30 pupils, about 6 more than the typical New York City fifth-grade class.

The principal, Mr. Vanderhoek, will earn just $90,000. Teachers will not have the same retirement benefits as members of the city’s teachers’ union. And they can be fired at will.

Vanderhoek plans to finance the operating costs without private donations.

Charter schools rarely use merit pay, notes Stafford Palmieri on Education Gadfly. That’s because they can reward good teachers and fire ineffective teachers.

. . . high-performing charter teachers can’t get very far up the pay scale if they’re ineffective because they’d be dismissed first.

. . . The currency of the charter rewards system is respect: knowing that your peers — other teachers — have their jobs because they deserve them, not because they made it through three years without molesting a child or passed an eighth-grade level exam that has little relationship to actual teaching quality. This can make a huge difference when it comes to workplace culture.

Most charters pay about the same as local district-run schools, with extra pay for longer hours or added duties.  Schools with a strong culture and community can attract and retain good teachers without offering high salaries. Disorderly, dysfunctional schools can’t keep good teachers no matter what the pay.

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  1. Diana Senechal says:

    It looks like a very talented staff, and I am thrilled that they will be offering Latin.

    My main question is: will they last? It sounds like a grueling job. Much of it will be rewarding, but I wonder about the extra hours and the administrative duties.

    Will it be hard for them to give up most of their own time, time that previously may have allowed them to think and work on their own projects?

    Will they take to the administrative duties? Will they be able to shoulder so many different responsibilities and roles at once?

    We shall see.

  2. Good questions, Diana. I too wonder much the same things.

  3. patricia says:

    But high paying jobs in other sectors typically are demanding, requiring long hours and varied responsibilities. As a lawyer, there is very little concept of my “own time” in which to develop my own projects; I work extremely long hours to be paid as well as I am. I realize teaching is not the cakewalk job many think it is, but if the teachers are smart and talented enough to deserve $125K, shouldn’t they be able to deal with some administrative tasks as well as teach? Particularly if the school is arranged with administrative efficiency in mind. As an outsider for whom education is simply a subject of interest to me, it seems to me that there is a huge amount of waste and large inefficiencies in the way many schools are administered. With the plans in place to staff so leanly, I would hope some thought has been given to streamlining.

  4. Cardinal Fang says:

    I hope this works and the students learn and thrive. But if it does work, we’re not much better off. “Find extremely good teachers who are willing to work long hours for a lot of money” is not a strategy that can be replicated on a large scale. There aren’t enough really good teachers who are willing to work long hours. We need strategies for making average teachers succeed.

  5. tim-10-ber says:

    I agree with Patricia. As a professional earning six figures I am expected to work late hours and weekends if that is what is necessary to meet the clients’ needs.

    Cardinal Fang — maybe with the streamlining of administrative tasks this high pay level would make schools more efficient, allow classrooms to take on a few more students per teacher and attract much better quality teachers to the classroom and administrators to lead the schools. I believe strongly our current education schools take on many lower performer college students who could only go into education. I also believe the schools of education provide a very light weight degree.

    By being willing to pay competitive salaries with the real world and requiring students to have a liberal arts subject matter degree and a teaching master degree (the only way I believe one should be able to get a teaching certificate) then I believe this idea would work across the country. It will take a long time to get there. Sadly…our public school kids have been cheated out of a quality education for too long. They cannot wait any longer. We need more innovative schools that can provide this high quality education. The country cannot wait any long either…

  6. Lots of women choose to be teachers partially because of the schedule. I don’t think that there is going to be a flood of teachers signing up for longer hours in exchange for higher pay, especially if they have children of their own.

    This phenomenon now exists in medicine. The structure of medical practice has changed with the advent of large numbers of women physicians; they very commonly choose shorter and more regular hours, even if it means less pay and they tend to prefer straight shifts, not an on-call schedule. They also tend to choose primary care, not the higher-paid specialties which have more demanding and unpredictable hours and on-call schedules. Obstetrics and gynecology is the exception; most OBGs are now women.

  7. Tee hee. I already work late nights and weekends for low 2 figures!

  8. Cardinal Fang says:

    tim-10-ber says: “By being willing to pay competitive salaries with the real world and requiring students to have a liberal arts subject matter degree and a teaching master degree (the only way I believe one should be able to get a teaching certificate) then I believe this idea would work across the country.”

    This is an attractive idea, but (1) there aren’t enough new teachers with these qualifications and (2) what do we do about all the current teachers who don’t have these qualifications? If we want to use this idea and also emulate The Equity Project, we need to find teachers who have a bachelor’s in a real subject and a master’s in teaching AND who are willing to work longer hours than a regular teacher. That will be a small applicant pool.

  9. This seems like a great plan!

    One of the things that has always bothered me about teaching is how little autonomy teachers actually have. In other “professional” fields (quotes because the term is really kind of meaningless, although I’m using it here…), the lawyers, doctors, accountants, etc. do typically have a boss and work within a hierarchy, but have a great deal of autonomy within their area. (At least after they have a few years of experience). Having the autonomy is, in fact, precisely the point of hiring the “professional.”

    In the legal and medical fields, minor administrative duties are part of the workload. Greater administrative responsibilities re generally taken up by lawyers and doctors who are perhaps seeing fewer clients/patients in exchange for doing the administrative work, but who aren’t full time administrators; if the practice is large enough there *may* be a doctor/lawyer working as a full time administrator…but at least in the legal field, working as an administrator typically involves a lot of working with the individual lawyers on particular cases.

    The analogy isn’t perfect, of course; practices tend to be private and owned by some of the practitioners, which gives them the right to call the shots. Also, as money-making enterprises, the incentives are different from schools and a lot easier to measure.

    Finally – and this points again to the autonomy issue – there aren’t the kind of regulations that micromanage doctors/lawyers the way that they do teachers. There is no Dept. of Law mandating that closing arguments be 45 minutes long, or requiring that doctors spend 15 minutes with every patient, etc. The reason for this is because the lawyer/doctor is the person who is best situated to determine the appropriate length of a close, or to determine how much time needs to be spent with the patient. (And – importantly – the consequences of getting this wrong are both real and significant. Which is why practices look for individuals who will be able to make the appropriate decisions.)

    So I’ll be very interested in seeing how this experiment pans out. It probably won’t work in all schools, but I can imagine it working in many schools, and I can see parts of it working in more.

    (Also, this is a decent salary, even in NYC, but there are teachers in NYC who earn 6 figures)

  10. “I already work late nights and weekends for low 2 figures!”

    Two figures? You make under $100 a year?

  11. LOL. Oops. I’ve lost my mind… but it does feel that way sometimes!

  12. Ragnarok says:

    How is this different from Wall Street hiring the “best and the brightest” at silly salaries, only to have them drive the economy into the ground?

    As much as I despise union rules that make it impossible to get rid of misfits, there’s no reason to think that “fire at will” won’t lead to equally deplorable results if the head honcho resorts to “Well, he’s not producing good results today, so I’ll enforce accountabilty and fire him”.

    The Drunkard’s Walk” by Leonard Mlodinow has an interesting look at the “hot hand” theory, using examples such as Sherry Lansing and George Lucas. Around page 18, I think.

    I think Palmieri was right:

    “. . . The currency of the charter rewards system is respect: knowing that your peers — other teachers — have their jobs because they deserve them”

  13. I work long hours, weekends, and even during summer vacation I am planning for the next year. BUT, I know many teachers on my staff who do not. My students test scores are higher than the district’s average, even more so than my school’s, and I have been working with inner city kids at the same school for 20 years now. I feel I should be paid more money. I do not, however, want to do any of that administration stuff. I deal with my own discipline problems, but now and then I need a vice principal to step in and be the heavy.