The New York Times reports on the start of The Equity Project (TEP), a charter school in New York City that pays teachers $125,000 per year, with a potential for a $25,000 bonus. There is no tenure and only a limited retirement benefits program. There are no assistant principals, and the principal earns just $90,000. This experiment fascinates me for three reasons:
- There is no tenure! Even when I was in secondary school, the concept of tenure perplexed me, as I had my handful of subpar teachers each year. There may be an argument for tenure in universities, but the way tenure works in primary and secondary education is a monstrosity. There are generally a few observations (for which teachers prepare beforehand), some administrative recommendations, and a presentation before teachers get hired for life after a couple of years as an untenured teacher. At the point of tenure, the incentive to be a creative and effective teacher decreases drastically since little short of harassment of students will result in the teacher’s dismissal. Besides providing an incentive for teachers to consistently work harder, TEP’s No Tenure policy is attracting more creative (and probably better) teachers. This makes sense since not having tenure is riskier, and you need to be a better teacher to survive review on a year-to-year basis.
- Administration is devalued. The most important people in a school are the teachers. They are the ones working with children day in and day out and should be the most talented and intelligent members of the school. Most public schools currently have an incentive structure that encourages teachers to go into administrative jobs, of which there are far too many. What the heck does an assistant principal do anyway? My best math teacher in high school left the school to work as a Math Director in another district. This seems counterintuitive: Shouldn’t the best teachers remain as teachers? TEP encourages this.
- Teachers are paid for teaching. Teachers should be compensated most while they are working, not while they are retired. $125,000 sounds like a lot of money, but the amount most public schools pay teachers for not working is a lot as well. Cutting those retirement benefits not only saves costs but also contributes to an incentive structure that attracts talented teachers.
Thus far, several of my posts have pointed out bad equilibria but have been cautious in offering potential solutions. TEP excites me because it is a response—a very wise one, I think—to create that rare good equilibrium.