The $100k Plan
By Emmett on Tuesday, August 22 2006, 03:46 - Permalink
Teachers are paid like mid-level administrators and given a job for skilled professionals. They raise our children every weekday. For other equivalently important jobs, we offer high salaries to attract the most qualified. Salaries are important both for the money and for the status that comes along with it.
It is difficult to recruit the best to a difficult job with low pay and status. In many places we simply can't find enough qualified teachers, let alone enough good ones. The solution to this problem is obvious, and has been proposed by many other than myself: pay our teachers more. So let's imagine a new kind of school where teachers were paid as professionals on par with doctors, lawyers, or engineers.
Starting salary at these new schools will be $100,000, compared to a current national average of $30,719. Public schools spent an average of $8,287 per child in 2004. That means each teacher must teach about 12 students to cover their salary. It's a general rule of thumb that overhead (work space, shared support staff, basic supplies, benefits) is at least 1/3 of salary; let's say it's 1/2, giving 18 students/teacher. Allowing for pay raises similar to the current system (teacher salaries reach an average of $46,597) brings that number to 27. We will ruthlessly cut anything else from our budget, because there simply won't be sufficient funds. A much lower teacher/student ratio requires structural changes to the way schools are organized.
The main consequence of this lower teacher/student ratio is a large reduction in the number of class hours available per week to each student. It simply won't be possible to fill schedules with 6 classes every day of the week. Instead, the school would therefore have to be structured much more like a college than a traditional high school. Students would take fewer classes concurrently, and classes would commonly meet only 2-3 times per week instead of every day. It also means more serious work required out of class, both by the students and the teachers responsible for them.
The low ratio also requires us to keep the schools as small as possible, so that natural social effects can help control disciplinary problems. Smaller schools require fewer support staff and less specialized equipment as well, which is good because we're not going to have a lot of extra money.
The smaller number of teachers means that each teacher is much more individually important. All other highly paid professionals have an apprenticeship style training program, and teachers would benefit from the same. Luckily, the smaller number of teachers also means that we don't have to hire as many new teachers per year, which should make it easier to provide quality training.
An incomplete list of other consequences which require thought:
- Small schools have limited facilities and social opportunities by nature, so perhaps a coalition would be required
- Vouchers? Charter schools? Reform of current public schools?
- What does the distribution of teachers of subjects look like?
- Who decides when and with what staff to create one of these schools? How is money allocated?
(Thanks to Steve for the conversation that sparked this idea and feedback)