I have said for some time that teaching will reach professional status when the 'highest paid anybody in a school district is a teacher.' Well, thanks to Zeke Vanderhoek and The Equity Project Charter School, we are getting closer. While Equity Project Charter teachers will not make more than Chancellor Klein, they will be paid more than the principal through Mr. Vanderhoek's innovative approach to recruit and retain the best teachers for his new charter, expected to open in 2009 in New York City (Washington Heights). The middle school will launch with seven teachers who will be selected on the basis of interviews and 'multiple forms of evidence attesting to their students' achievement and their own prowess.' The screening process will include 'three live teaching auditions.'
No surprise, as reported in the New York Times, the head of the local principals' union claimed the plan was 'the craziest thing I've ever heard' and the head of the teachers' union wondered what would happen when the better paid teachers did not agree with the lesser paid principal (indeed, Mr. Vanderhoek himself, for at least four years). These are very 'old school' sentiments and questions -- to say the least.
Kudos to Mr. Vanderhoek for pushing a bold idea forward -- but remember that recruiting and retaining top-flight teachers for high needs schools takes smart school designs and also money. The charter school already is having to 'scrimp' in order to pay their teachers as professionals. Mr. Vanderhoek, despite his thoughtful reallocation of public funds, must draw on philanthropic funding (and hopefully not bake sales) to make ends meet.
Nevertheless, thanks to Mr. Vanderhoek we can begin raising the questions, tied to real dollars and cents, of what teachers are worth to our democratic society. For my money, when top-flight teachers in NYC can make more than $250,000 a year -- the salary of Chancellor Klein -- then I am ready to say we have made marked progress in advancing the profession that makes all others possible.