Thursday, November 6, 2014

Churning Those $125K Teachers

The Atlantic asks the question, "What Happens To Test Scores When Teachers Are Paid $125,000 a Year?"

They're taking a look at the Equity Project Chart School in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, and what they found are two things-- neither of which are surprising.

The basic concept of the school, one we've heard batted about many times, is get rid of administrative positions and create a high base salary for teachers. We don't talk much about the threat to administrators in charter models, but when you think about it, what does a modern charter operation need a real principal for? Policies and procedures are set by the main office, and educational programs come in a can. Mostly we just need someone in the front office to shuffle papers. Meanwhile, let's make all the teachers do their own disciplinary work and other administrative chores. If we're giving them the former Assistant Principal's salary, they can go ahead and do his job, too. Double the salary is perhaps less impressive when it comes with double the work.

The progress of the school was studied by Mathematica, a research-for-hire favorite of the Gates Foundation, so you know the results will be as totally dependable as research on tobacco health effects sponsored by the Tobacco Institute. They measured the impact in years of learning (a thing that can't actually be done-- imagine trying to measure student heighgt in "years of growing") and discovered that after a couple of years, Equity was doing AWESOME-- particularly when it comes to math. 46% of their eighth graders passed the city math test, which is better than most schools. I'm sure that the Equity student population is totally reflective of the city-wide student population. I'm also sure that they don't just spend most of their time doing test prep.

"Hey," you say. "Results are results. And how about those massive teacher salaries?"

Glad you asked. You might wonder how a school could afford to pump so much money into a base salary. And beyond that, there are supposed to be bonuses after two years of successful work! How will we keep from going broke?

Did I mention there's also no tenure? Does that suggest a solution to you?

That's right. You avoid having to pay those two year bonuses by just firing everybody before they can get them.

Mind you, by reformsters own test-passing standards, Equity is somewhat successful, which means we're going to give teachers the credit for that, right? But no-- somehow Equity achieved great results with what was apparently a crappy staff. Over four years, 20 out of 43 teachers did not return for a second year.

Some quit before they could be fired, but sixteen of those were not rehired after their first year. I bet they feature these numbers prominently in their pitch to recruit new teachers.

There's your charter model-- more churn than a fast food restaurant, less job security than a grocery store bagger.

Note: For another, somewhat more grown up, look at the Equity Project, check out this post at the Shanker Blog.

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