Through the Education Lens

Watch: 60 Minutes w/Katie Couric - $125,000 Teachers w/o Tenure

CJ Westerberg, March 14, 2011 9:18 AM


"The difference between a great teacher and a mediocre teacher
is several grade levels of achievement in a given year."

Principal Zeke Vanderhoek

"It's not okay to be just okay."
              -TEP, about teacher expectations and quality, 60 Minutes

Two must-watch videos below.

#1  60 Minutes Interview by Katie Couric about TEP: a publicly-funded, privately-run charter school "experiment" where teachers receive $125,000 salary with no tenure.  It's called TEP and stands for The Equity Project.

#2  Randi Weingarten, head of American Federation of Teachers (teacher union), interview
with Couric regarding tenure.

Among some of jaw-drop stats and statements - out of 55,0000 tenured teachers in NY, only 7 were removed for poor performance.

Yet, this is more than a tenure story  - it really gets at the core of tenure - which is teacher evaluation.  The three levels of evaluation for teachers at TEP are key:

1)  Is classroom managed to support instruction?
2)  Are the students engaged?
3)  Is there "evidence" produced to display student progress growing from Point A to Point B?

A few other thoughts:

We noticed (and liked) one teacher's class "rules," as seen on blackboard:
1)  Do your best  (high expectations, personal expectations).
2)  Make smart choices (empowering students to take charge).
3)  Be kind (awareness of behavior and group dynamic).

Although Vanderhoek firmly stated that TEP is indeed scalable, the 80 hour workweek
cited by one of the two teachers fired by TEP after a year, isn't scalable, and you'll lose great teachers in the process.    Is this weekly hourly commitment an integral component of the TEP model?  Is it 50 hours or 90 hours?  Is it true for all teachers, or this particular teacher's experience?

Yet, since these TAP teachers were taking on more than teacher responsibilities (administrative, tutoring) that were previously handled by others, couldn't one combine what works at TAP with a less  stringent cut in personnel, streamlining some of the load to make the hours more realistic?  Also, does every school have to adopt the exact TEP business model?

The issue of progress 

The question of "evidence" of progress is, again, the big question.  Do we rely on standardized test scores, when indeed we know progress may not occur in a  "standardized" fashion - ie. cumulative over a couple years.  The example of the one fifth grader in the film who entered and was not reading, and who left the grade making a two grade jump.  Yet, would this student show up well on standardized tests when compared to other NY students at this grade level?  Probably not.  Sure, we can test beginning of the year to end of year, yet we also know progress has bumps and outside factors in play.

There have to be better, more reliable ways to measure progress. 

Regarding teacher evaluation, it would be difficult NOT to like the group evaluation of each other scene in the video.  We can see classroom management and engagement more readily than "progress."   Also thought the initial student evaluations at the beginning of the first film clip was fascinating - reminiscent of High Tech High's recruiting process.

Finally, there was no mention of how TEP handles the community/poverty/home-life issues of  disadvantaged students, such as the womb-to graduation philosophy of Geoffrey
Harlem Childrens' Zone schools.  TEP's philosophy is focusing on teacher quality as
the key component toward student achievement:

"TEP's strategy is grounded in this research and takes the form of the 3 R's: Rigorous Qualifications, Redefined Expectations, and Revolutionary Compensation."

What's your riff on this? 

More background info from CBS here.

Related: Check out Sam Chaltain's post: What Joel Klein Doesn't Understand About Teaching - and What We Should Do Instead


  • CJ Westerberg

    Agree that segment should have covered more aspects of the school -

    60 minutes should have allotted a longer time period since the program is supposed to be about in-depth coverage. Not sure it was Couric's call -

    In our sound bite world, one theme seems to rise to the top due to the master of time. I wanted more info, too.

  • Anonymous

    What makes the principal, Zeke Vanderhoek, of the “The Equity Project” charter school qualified to make decisions on teacher hiring and teacher effectiveness? His classroom experience was gained through the Teach For America program.

    While I can’t find any details on his length of time or accomplishments as a classroom teacher, he was only 32 when he began this charter school and his former job was Founder of the Manhattan GMAT prep company. That company was founded in 2001, so I can’t imagine he spent more than a couple of years as a classroom teacher, and I cannot find any evidence of him being a school administrator prior to his current job.

    To me he seems to be lacking any documented accomplishments that make him qualified for his current job.

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