THE DAY starts in a small office in downtown Manhattan with Zeke Vanderhoek, the principal of The Equity Project, a charter school set to open in the Bronx this autumn. Already the school has attracted national attention—not for its pedagogy, but for its teachers’ salaries: $125,000 annually, plus a performance-related bonus. This pay, easily double or triple what most teachers make, will come out of the school’s grant from the city’s education department—which, as is standard for charter schools, is a good deal less than it spends on its own public schools.
How will he find the money? By hiring great teachers, says Zeke, which will allow him to cut back on everything else: the school will have hardly any non-teaching staff and no assistant principals, just a principal (himself) who earns less than classroom teachers. It will pay for no educational consultants or outside courses: these super-teachers will support each other’s professional development. They will work long, hard days: 8am to 6pm, and each will fill one of the roles normally assigned to support staff, such as chasing up truants. When one is absent, colleagues will cover, rather than the school paying for peripatetic substitutes.
We talk about money and waste in public schools: the programmes started and abandoned; the consultants and other hangers-on, both public-sector and private; the expensive remediation of mistakes made earlier in a child’s education; the even more expensive failure to remediate so that many children leave school having had a small fortune spent on them—and barely able to read.