An Educational Experiment

Now that the first weekend of spring is over, and all my brackets are officially busted, it’s time for us to exit the basketball gym and return to the classroom, just like 52 of the 68 NCAA tournament teams will be doing tomorrow.

What kind of classroom, you ask?  Well, if you go to school at TEP Charter School in New York City, you will be attending class in a double-wide trailer that looks more like a toolshed than a place for learning.  The kids at TEP are fifth and sixth graders, and most of them come from less fortunate backgrounds.  Almost all of them are minorities who live in a rough part of town.  Few would be surprised to know they go to school in makeshift classrooms like those at TEP.

Even fewer would guess that these kids are taught by arguably one of the finest grade school faculties in America. 

What TEP lacks in infrastructure, it makes up in teacher salaries.  Rather than spend millions to build brick-and-mortar classrooms for its students, TEP dedicates its resources to attracting the best educators in the country.  The school gets flooded with thousands of applications each year for a chance to teach 250 underachieving students whose families are scraping to get by.  The chosen ones are paid well: a whopping $125,000/yr, plus a chance to make up to a $25,000 bonus.

You see TEP, which opened its doors less than 2 years ago, has a unique philosophy.  It believes the biggest factor in educating students is the quality of the teachers.  So TEP has decided to delay building permanent classrooms in order to maintain the best teaching staff money can buy.

TEP was featured on 60 Minutes last weekend.  As it turns out, there are ups and downs to teaching there.  Obviously, the pay is good.  And, the work is rewarding.  Some kids come to TEP as fifth graders who can’t read or write.  As a teacher, it has to feel good to see these kids finally the attention they deserve, and slowly get them back on track.  The kids are very grateful.  They participate eagerly in class, and rave about how much they like their new school compared to their old one.  The atmosphere is uplifting.

Now for the downside.  The teachers work long hours.  Some of them have decided to quit because they were spending so much time preparing lessons for their pupils, they hardly had any time left for their own family.  Also, there is no possibility of tenure.  The teachers work on an at-will basis; they could be let go at any time.  And with thousands of applicants chomping at the bit to take their place, their jobs are anything but secure.  This is in stark contrast to the New York City public school system, where teachers are paid and promoted based on senority alone, and only 7 of the more than 55,000 teachers there are discharged for cause each year.

So how will this experiment play out?  The kids at TEP still have low test scores.  The principal is concerned, but he reminds everyone that the school just got started.  He is expecting to see tangible results in the next 3-4 years.  I guess we will just have to wait and see.

I think it’s good that this little school is trying to shake up things in the education system.  In my opinion, teachers should be paid according to their performance.  Good teachers should be paid very well.  We should seek out talent for our children, and pay what it takes to keep it.  Everyone says education is important, but we never put our money where our mouths are.  There is no telling how many people out there would be great teachers if only they could make any money doing it.  On the other hand, maybe the best teachers are motivated by things other than money.

Either way, I’ll be interested to see how this educational experiment works out.     

2 thoughts on “An Educational Experiment

  1. Interesting. Teachers should be paid according to performance, but how do you keep track of that performance? Test scores? Grades? Attendance? An average of all three? Would it be like a job in a company, where if you are below performance goals it’s first brought to your attention and then fired if you keep repeating the mistake? I like this experiment, thanks for bringing to my attention! 😀

  2. @vixenELECTRIC – That’s a good question!  This may be one of those ideas that sound good in theory, but is a lot more difficult in practice.  I wish there was a reliable way to measure motivation.  I think that is the most important thing teachers can do for their students, is to help motivate them.It’s hard because a lot of times, kids do not realize how good (or bad) their teachers were until years afterwards.  The teacher plants the seed, but it can take a while to see the results.  Maybe the school could survey students several years after they are done with the class to see what kind of impact the teacher had on them.  I think that would be a better measure than relying upon test scores, grades, attendance, etc.  A lot of those things are beyond the teacher’s control.  Teachers should not be expected to work miracles, but should be expected to make a positive impact on the lives of their students.  Teachers who are consistently able to do that should be rewarded.Thanks for your feedback.   :  )

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