"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Higher Teacher Pay: How to Kill a Great Idea

While doing some research on Teach for America (or at least for Awhile), which is described by one unconvinced Yale senior as "like the Peace Corp but, you know, creepier," I came across this quote by one of those young former Ivy Leaguers who signed up for TFA to do his 2-year urban teaching stint to prove that grim sociological reality can be eclipsed by the sunny stumbling of high cognitive functioning and and untested egomania:
"I'm having trouble sleeping, but I'm really enjoying it," he said. "It's frantic but fun. Classroom management is the hardest thing for me. I've learned that the minute I turn my back, it's a volcano in the classroom, so I won't be turning my back anymore. There's three other T.F.A. teachers in my school, and we're getting through it together."
Still these social entrepeneurs just keep on coming. With no experience, history, sociology, or politics of education to inform their splendid mental gifts and social positions, they are left to their own self-acknowledged ingenuity and glassy-eyed spunk to come up with schemes that are saleable to the new econanthropists and human capital market managers who are taking over education. Most recent example: Washington Heights TFA teacher and former Yalie, Zeke M. Vanderhoek. Zeke has a funded plan to pay teachers $125,000 a year to teach in his new school, The Equity Project. The working hypothesis: Pay enough in salary to attract people like himself to teach in the poorest schools, and voila!

If there were anything to hold Mr. Vanderhoek's immodest enthusiasm within the realm of the possible, he might have noticed that teacher pay is a factor in getting and holding great teachers--but it is not the factor. And many of those other factors have everything to do with the infrastructure, non-instructional support, resources, curriculum, facilities, climate, etc. that Mr. Vanderhoek would cut back on in order to pay the higher salary:

. . . .“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.

In exchange for their high salaries, teachers at the new school, the Equity Project, will work a longer day and year and assume responsibilities that usually fall to other staff members, like attendance coordinators and discipline deans. To make ends meet, the school, which will use only public money and charter school grants for all but its building, will scrimp elsewhere. . . .

Ah, yes, efficiency zeal and either-or thinking--the two enemies of common sense. What a great deal of energy that a little background reading and research might have saved. But then that would have necessitated the acknowledgement that the past might be relevant to what we do today, and clearly, hubris has already eliminated that possibility.


  1. Anonymous9:44 PM

    Is he wrong to start such a school? There is a wide variety of questions about the school. Essentially though is he wrong to start a school that would get the best and brightest based on his view of what good teaching is? Is his view of good teaching based on what he did in his company or what he learned while doing TFA? Do you know what was his course of study - was it business or education? Is he approaching the start of the school as a business formula to be served to all low income areas?

    When it comes down to teacher's pay it is a mechanism to get an enormous pool of applicants so by default he would have access to the "best" or the teacher that suits his idea of a teacher for his school.

  2. Anonymous11:47 PM

    I'm waiting to hear anything about how the project is doing. Really would like that salary, and would assume that it's better working conditions than here in GA without a union.