Good Jobs at Good Wages

Fri, 07 Mar 2008 18:09:14 +0000

I know, the employment report has no good news in it, but this front page story in The New York Times is sure to get some attention. The concept:

Would six-figure salaries attract better teachers?

A New York City charter school set to open in 2009 in Washington Heights will test one of the most fundamental questions in education: Whether significantly higher pay for teachers is the key to improving schools.

The school, which will run from fifth to eighth grades, is promising to pay teachers $125,000, plus a potential bonus based on schoolwide performance. That is nearly twice as much as the average New York City public school teacher earns, roughly two and a half times the national average teacher salary and higher than the base salary of all but the most senior teachers in the most generous districts nationwide.

The school’s creator and first principal, Zeke M. Vanderhoek, contends that high salaries will lure the best teachers. He says he wants to put into practice the conclusion reached by a growing body of research: that teacher quality — not star principals, laptop computers or abundant electives — is the crucial ingredient for success.

“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.
I would much rather see that, too. At this school, teachers will be paid so well that they'll make more than the principal, an inversion which generated this:
Ernest A. Logan, president of the city principals’ union, called the notion of paying the principal less than the teachers “the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“It’s nice to have a first violinist, a first tuba, but you’ve got to have someone who brings them all together,” Mr. Logan said. “If you cheapen the role of the school leader, you’re going to have anarchy and chaos.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers, called the hefty salaries “a good experiment.” But she said that when teachers were not unionized, and most charter school teachers are not, their performance can be hampered by a lack of power in dealing with the principal. “What happens the first time a teacher says something like, ‘I don’t agree with you?’ ”

Presumably, the principal listens to what the teacher has to say and then makes a decision, which may or may not accommodate the teacher's disagreement. Millions of businesses, and even some educational institutions, operate on this principle. Those that operate in competitive markets don't prosper by ignoring good advice or treating talented employees as if they are inconsequential. And the teacher is not an indentured servant here--"nothing" prevents a teacher dissatisfied with a principal from starting a rival school with better policies.

The Age of Friedman is not dead yet.

Cross-posted at Vox Baby.