June 5, 2009
Next Test: Value of $125,000-a-Year Teachers
By ELISSA GOOTMAN
So what kind of teachers could a school get if it paid them $125,000 a year?
An accomplished violist who infuses her music lessons with the neuroscience of why one needs to practice, and creatively worded instructions like, "Pass the melody gently, as if it were a bowl of Jell-O!"
A self-described ?explorer? from Arizona who spent three decades honing her craft at public, private, urban and rural schools.
Two with Ivy League
degrees. And Joe Carbone, a phys ed teacher, who has the most unusual r?sum? of the bunch, having worked as Kobe Bryant
?s personal trainer.
"Developed Kobe from 185 lbs. to 225 lbs. of pure muscle over eight years," it reads.
They are members of an eight-teacher dream team, lured to an innovative charter school
that will open in Washington Heights in September with salaries that would make most teachers drop their chalk and swoon; $125,000 is nearly twice as much as the average New York City public school teacher earns, and about two and a half times as much as the national average for teacher salaries
. They also will be eligible for bonuses, based on schoolwide performance, of up to $25,000 in the second year.
The school, called the Equity Project
, is premised on the theory that excellent teachers - and not revolutionary technology, talented principals or small class size - are the critical ingredient for success. Experts hope it could offer a window into some of the most pressing and elusive questions in education: Is a collection of superb teachers enough to make a great school? Are six-figure salaries the way to get them? And just what makes a teacher great?
The school's founder, Zeke M. Vanderhoek, 32, a Yale graduate who founded a test prep company, has been grappling with just these issues. Over the past 15 months he conducted a nationwide search that was almost the American Idol
of education - minus the popular vote, but complete with hometown visits (Mr. Vanderhoek crisscrossed the country to observe the top 35 applicants in their natural habitats) and misty-eyed fans (like the principal who got so emotional recommending Casey Ash that, Mr. Vanderhoek recalled, she was "basically crying on the phone with me, saying what a treasure he was...