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Paying Teachers $125,000.
By David W. Kirkpatrick (March 20, 2008)
Senior Education Fellow
U.S. Freedom Foundation www.freedomfoundation.us

 
In 2009 New York City may see a charter school that pays teachers $125,000 a year.  However, the school's founder, Zeke M. Vanderhoek, says he will be the school's principal for an annual salary of $90,000.  The school has received city and state approval.
 
As usual in public school circles this different way to do things already has its critics.  The head of New York City's principals union has been publicly quoted as saying it's the craziest thing he's ever heard.  Apparently he is unaware that there are charter schools which don't even have a principal.
 
The president of the city's teachers union has suggested that if the teachers are not unionized they may have problems.  This ignores another fact about the nation's 4200 charter schools - few are unionized.  It perhaps also deserves noting that neither her union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) nor any units of the larger National Education Association (NEA) have ever won $125,000 salaries for its members.  The national average is about $50,000 plus fringe benefits, although a handful in wealthy districts have approached $100,000.
 
Those who wonder if this plan is economically feasible might consider the following.  The average per student cost of education nationally is about $10,000 annually.  The pupil-teacher ratio is about 16-to-1. Thus an average of $160,000 is spent per teacher, $35,000 less than the proposed teacher salaries.  And those are averages.  Many districts pay far more, up to $70,000 (that's not a misprint!!) per pupil.  They should be able to pay teachers $125,000.  But they don't .
 
One reason why is that public education here is a bureaucratic nightmare.  The late Al Shanker, president of the AFT, once claimed that New York State has more school administrators than all the Western European nations combined.  The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), of which the United States is a member, has reported the U.S. is the only nation in which less than half of public school employees are teachers.  Recent figures say public schools have 8,000,000 employees (plus another 2,000,000 at the state and national levels).  Fewer than four million are teachers.
 
The proposed charter school plans to open with seven teachers and 120 students, eventually growing fourfold to 28 teachers and 480 students, plus two social workers and the principal.  In each instance, funding of $10,000 per student would provide a bit more than $170,000 per teacher, giving a balance of $45,000 per teacher - that's a total of $315,000 initially and $1,260,000 at full enrollment. Teachers will also have a longer work day and year, and share nonteaching duties such as attendance and discipline.
 
Another factor is the plan to have classes of 30 students, Vanderhoek's view being that a competent teacher with 30 students is preferable to a mediocre teacher with fifteen.  A Princeton professor has questioned whether a teacher can handle 30 students.  Apparently he's not sure he could.  When and where I was a high school teacher, classes of 30 were not only common they frequently were as large as 35.  Not only that, I was the local union president for several years and one complaint I never received from members was that they had too many students.  I thought then, and do now, that an argument could be made to that effect but it would be one of too many students per day, not per class.  A class of 35 could be taught - we did it regularly - but 160-200 students in 5-6 secondary school classes per day  made it all very difficult to assign research papers or essay tests because of the time required to correct them.
 
Further evidence that the founder of the proposed charter school has done his homework is a requirement that teachers score at or above the 90th percentile on a test of verbal ability.  Verbal skill is one of the few objective measurements that research finds indicates teaching ability.  Since studies show about 75% of class time is spent with the teacher talking, such a requirement is reasonable.  School districts might try this.  If they can find enough teachers!
 
At the very least the school should be given a chance to succeed on its own terms.

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"When we have a labor problem we (the teachers) sit down at a table, pull out a mirror and figure it out." Milo Cutter, co-founder of the nation's first charter school, City Academy in St. Paul, MN  (The school has no principal or office staff) - from personal notes at a charter school conference in Milwaukee, March 1, 1995

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Copyright 2008 David W. Kirkpatrick
108 Highland Court,
Douglassville, Pennsylvania 19518-9240
Phone: (610) 689-0633

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