Building stronger public schools: problem solved?


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60 Minutes did a segment on The Equity Project (TEP). TEP is a charter school that is publicly funded and privately run in New York City by founder and principal Zeke Vanderhoek. The goal of TEP is to prove that attracting the best teachers and holding them accountable for results is essential to a school’s success. And guess what else—Vanderhoek also rewards these top-tier educators with salaries around $125,000 per year.

You should absolutely watch this:

CBSnews.com, 60 Minutes archive: Charter school's $125K experiment
Airdate: March 13, 2011

Below are a few reasons I find TEP's approach so very promising:

  • TRANSPARENCY. Teaching at TEP might not be the right fit for every educator, so acknowledging that with expectations delivered upfront is important. It ensures the teachers understand what they are signing up for, and that they are choosing to be committed to the challenge.

  • ACCOUNTABILITY. At TEP, it’s not okay to just be okay. Vanderhoek is willing to pay for the best teachers, but strings are attached. Each teacher is accountable for helping students intellectually grow from point a to point b—and their job depends on it.
  • COLLABORATION. On top of accountability, there is a system in place for teachers to receive regular feedback. The teachers are required to hold peer critiques where they analyze teaching videos, gain feedback on teaching styles, and share techniques that did/did not work in their classroom. The teachers agree that this approach makes them better teachers.
  • PASSION. The students are engaged and the teachers are invested. If you watched the video, you heard students say they appreciate the fact that the teachers stay on top of them to ensure they remain focused on their school work. They feel like the teachers truly care about their success. As for the teachers, not only are they enjoying their job, they trust Vanderhoek. They feel like they are becoming even better teachers with his guidance and this teamwork-focused approach.

What are your thoughts on this method of education? Will the approach at TEP put us closer to building stronger public schools?

Your thoughts and comments are what an open thread is all about. So, start sharing.

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8 Comments

lorimehen's picture
Open Source Champion

I absolutely believe it will work. You instill a desire for learning in a student only once you've built trust. One teacher in the video said, "On a student, I will never give up." It's clear that the students get that, (one student said, "they [teachers] actually care") and so trust these teachers.

David Spence's picture

Firstly teachers are already held accountable for performance as are the respective leadership.
Secondly in public education the school is required to retain all students from the jurisdiction regardless of economic status or personal capability. Private schools often test students at the beginning of the year and drop those that are not where they want them to be. Additionally those with out enough money to pay for extra fees and materials are not enrolled at all.
Thirdly paying a teacher who has a degree and often a masters (spending at least $70,000 on education) $125,000 in a city where hotel bar tenders may $100,000 a year is not saying much at all. Not to mention the poor quality of benefits offered by public schools.

Rebecca's picture
Open Source Champion

A few points - most states will NOT pay the per-pupil dollars given in NYC. If you brought those kind of dollars here to North Carolina, you'd get some darned good schools, too.

Second, charter schools contain low-income students with a motivated parent or grandparent. They have fewer special ed kids, fewer ESL kids, and can "counsel out" the kids who are causing problems. The usual problems of self-selecting samples apply.

Third, tenure is important. It doesn't protect teachers whose students aren't scoring well on the tests; there are already entire schools whose teachers get fired for that. Or in euphemistic terms, have to "reapply for their jobs." What it does protect is teachers from being dismissed without due process. It means that at a school without tenure, you can be fired because the principal wants to hire his friend's son as a teacher instead of you. Or because you gave a student from a prominent family a bad grade. Or any number of reasons, none of which you have any real recourse for.

Many of the other points mentioned are already being implemented in many public schools. There is a lot of teacher collaboration happening in what's called PLCs (professional learning communities) and the schools and teachers are held accountable for their scores ("high stakes" testing) to a detrimental degree.

A large study just came out last year that showed merit-based bonuses didn't affect the scores of students under teachers eligible for them--most teachers teach because they love it, and if they need to improve, they simply need good quality continuing education to do so. I do like the "coaching" part of this model, and that's something teachers have begged for years to get funding and time for--a true mentoring program.

The biggest problem that inner city schools face with teachers is the high turnover rate and the excess concentration of new and inexperienced teachers in those schools. We know from both teachers and studies that a teacher doesn't really hit his or her stride until about 3 or 4 years in, and the typical teacher in an inner city school has quit by then. If it's a Teach for America teacher, on average he's quit far before then.

So our neediest students aren't getting our best teachers, which is a problem TEP identifies. But the answer isn't bribing them with more money--most inner city schools already offer premiums for teaching within them. It's to stabilize classrooms, offer more teacher support, and give young/new teachers mentors in a meaningful way. And for many inner city schools, money is a big issue too.

I'll be impressed with the charter school that comes into a public school, meets the same requirements (for testing, free and reduced lunches, keeping problem students, providing special ed and English language classes, etc.) and retains the same students (no application process--just take the kids who are there and keep the same attrition rate or reduce it) and shows some real results.

This isn't happening anywhere that I've seen.

Mary Ann's picture
Open Source Evangelist

In New York, the average teacher salary is $69,118 (source: http://www.nea.org/home/3677.htm ). $125,000 is 80.9% change over the average teacher salary. I'd say that's headed in the right direction.

Alexandro Colorado's picture

As far as I know this looks like a propaganda piece. The new administration is trying to get this high salaries in the government just as they are doing it with the Police and (maybe) other government employment. Not sure if this is part of the 'save or create' job plan from Obama. But is sure has to do a lot with the movie "Waiting on Superman" which you can look up on youtube for some clips.
From what I remember, the new head of public schooling had no academic background and her master plan was to get incompetent teachers out of their unions. How will she get them? By bribing them with this high salaries.
That way she will be able to get rid of excess teachers. At the end, she lost, but it seems this 60 min was part of the selling of the plan.
That said I am not sure what is this doing on a FLOSS project, it has nothing to do with open source.
I would be more interested into learning how is the OLPC-NY project is doing in Harlem.

guillermo112's picture
Newbie

in my opinion US needs to learn of Europe. We have really good schools and colleges which everybody can afford. The problem there is to segregate rich and poor people in differents schools...

I am pretty healthy person. I do like sports. One of the better things in live is sleeping more than 8 hours per day.

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Mary Ann's picture
Open Source Evangelist

Thanks for all the opinions and thoughts--- interesting points of views.

One thing I should have made clearer --- why is this in the Education channel on opensource.com? To me, the aspects I found promising and outlined above are characteristics, in my opinion, that map to the open source way.

Alexandro, I'd also like to hear about the progress of OLPC-NY -- if you have any insight on this, please send it our way!

Jonathon's picture

I think that this program could work out. Our schools pay extra for good teachers and we have a decent education. Sure it ain't great but that probably has something to do with the fact that they spend more on technology then they do about providing necessary resources such as books and etc. Anyways what concerns me is that this principal basically said that there is nothing to make sure he is a good leader other then himself. If he is bad and is not a good enough leader then who is to replace him?

And as for the retirement program they were talking about, it's not that difficult to remove a teacher. Our school is removing a teacher who lets his students do just about whatever they want. I'm in that class and I honestly have to say I gave up on trying to learn in there when you may have 5 minutes out of 50 of actual learning, then he just sits down at his desk and everyone chills.