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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Six-figure salaries for teachers?
WANTED: Seven high-energy middle school teachers for new charter school in Washington Heights, N.Y., near the Bronx. School will initially serve 120 mostly low-income and Hispanic students. Teachers will work a longer day and year than at most public schools and have bigger class sizes. Background in education not required, but knowledge of Latin a plus.

And did we mention salary? The new school, called the Equity Project, will pay you $125,000 -- that’s right, $125,000 -- plus a potential bonus based on school-wide performance.

Not surprisingly, according to a story in the New York Times school founder and principal Zeke M. Vanderhoek has received such a flood of responses that the school’s voice-mail message has begun urging applicants to use e-mail instead.

The school, said the Times, “will test one of the most fundamental questions in education: Whether significantly higher pay for teachers is the key to improving schools.”

The key? Well, I would guess that if every public school in America could pay its teachers $125,000 plus incentives --- which Vanderhoek plans to do by using city, state, and federal money, as well as grants the vast majority would indeed improve, and some dramatically so: It’s a simple question of economics. And, while the prospect of universal six-figure salaries for teachers may seem remote for now, the mere mention of that kind of compensation could have a real impact in the debate over how best to “professionalize” the job. (One way: Show them the money.)

Of course, when “boutique” projects like this one succeed, it’s often because of their very uniqueness; they possess qualities that aren’t necessarily transferable to bigger systems. For example, to make ends meet, Vanderhoek plans to pay himself, and any principal who after him, less than his teachers. The school will have only one or two social workers for a school serving a disadvantaged population. The only electives will be music and Latin. And the story didn’t say anything about football.

Unrealistic? Maybe for now. But experiments like the Equity Project give us all something to think about.
Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

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