By now I’m sure you’ve heard about the new charter school in New York City whose teachers get paid $125,000. You might have read it at Dan’s blog or at Mr. Pullen’s, and I’ve yet to weigh in on it.

Long story short, this school has 30 mostly low-income Hispanic kids per class, no vice principals, no unions. Oh, and the principal will make $90,000 each year — less than the teachers. That’s probably why the principal’s union is more miffed than the teacher’s union.

I excerpt a tidbit from the article in The New York Times as follows:

Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers, called the hefty salaries “a good experiment.” But she said that when teachers were not unionized, and most charter school teachers are not, their performance can be hampered by a lack of power in dealing with the principal. “What happens the first time a teacher says something like, ‘I don’t agree with you?’ ”

NYC Educator never has anything nice to say about anything, and continues the trend.

So do these teachers really make more than city teachers? Perhaps they do, if the teachers in question are at the beginning of the salary scale. Are their benefits equal to those of city teachers? Do they have a pension plan? Probably not. …

I suppose it’s better to work with no union protection for more money. But what would happen to a teacher at this school who dared to mention unionization? Would she be tossed out on her ear like Nicole Byrne Lau? Blanche DuBois may be comfortable depending on the kindness of strangers, but I’m not.

Maybe this is the uninformed outlook of an outsider, but when I read “New York City Teacher’s Union” I think inefficient, obstructive and legendarily bloated.

Where do teacher’s unions stop being helpful and start being wasteful? Are they a necessary evil, or simply necessarily evil? How valuable would an annual $125,000 be to you if you had longer hours — though more prep periods — and no union support?


  1. AMEN. I’ll take my $125,000 and buy my own health insurance if needed, and then I’ll do a good enough job that NO principal would want to get rid of me, and if one did, ten more would hire me. Anyone who says a $125,000/year, non-unionized job is a bad deal needs to wake up to the current state of the US economy and stop reading only the latest version of NEA’s talking points.

  2. Agreed. Even the more generous pay scales have teachers taking what? 25-30 years to reach something comparable to that 125k? And while pension plans are nice, if you invested the money used to fund them in a regular old 401(k), more likely than not you would be just as well off in retirement.

    As for the lack of power in dealing with the principal…any principal firing teachers over trivial disagreements probably wouldn’t last long himself. You think a CEO who started firing his best people would survive the wrath of the board? That said, I don’t really know how most charter schools work…

    Unions may be necessary evils in that it’s unlikely this new model will become the norm, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea.

  3. To think that I was worried that people would respond negatively to this idea of unionless teaching. How about that.

  4. I’m mainly skeptical of the scaling/model-school aspect of all this. They seem to balance the budget by cutting electives down to Latin and Music. That means there will be a lot of self-selection in the student body, and all the really tough student cases will still be in the public schools or the charters that are more permissive of the slacking lifestyle. So I suspect high student achievment, but there will be no good way to compare the metric.

    Neal: In regards to “You think a CEO who started firing his best people would survive the wrath of the board?”, I’d say you’re mighty optimistic when it comes to corruption in the corporate world.

  5. Unless we somehow jump onto a single reform that would apply across-the-board to all schools, there will be that issue.

    I’m not concerned with this scaling/model-school deal, though there is a case for it. These kids aren’t rich white kids transferring from a prep school — from the Times article, they’re mostly lower-income Hispanic kids.

    That is, lower-income Hispanic kids with parents who are savvy enough and care enough to send their kids to a charter school that teaches Latin.

    Even if it’s balanced against parental involvement, it isn’t balanced in favor of higher-achieving income groups or higher-achieving ethnicity groups. Two out of three ain’t bad.

  6. Jason: Fair enough, to a point. Still, at the end of the day, it’s all about results. If a CEO fires his best people without damaging the bottom line–which I suppose is possible–then he’ll be fine. Similarly, if the principal starts firing his best teachers, and test scores, etc., don’t suffer, then we may have something to worry about, but I’m far from convinced that would happen, in the case of a school.

    I realize this is an overgeneralization, and that the CEO analogy is tenuous in light of some of the outright corrupt practices in the business world today, but for better or for worse, the metrics of success have become more black and white in our schools and it would be difficult for a principal to mess with his teachers without visibly damaging the “bottom line.”

  7. Lindsey

    I am not a teacher, but every female member of my family except one are or have been teachers, and many of the males as well. My three teacher aunts all support this system. One of my aunt in particular hate the unions and hate being forced into them because they feel like they are paying union dues and getting no real help from them. My grandmother is older and tends to support the unions more, but she hasn’t taught for over 20 years.

  8. Benjamin: Good point!

    Are you familiar with this paper? Comparing those who entered the Chicago school-choice lottery and won and those who entered and lost there was essentially no difference; between those who entered the lottery (involved parents) and those who who didn’t (uninvolved parents), there was significant difference.

    Neal: Overall point understood. Just busting chops, is all.

  9. dkzody

    I love our union…when I was hired almost 20 years ago, it was as a long-term sub. The district decided to make me a permanent teacher in January after the gal I was replacing could not pass the CBEST. The union went to bat for me (without my asking) and got my hire date reset to August 29. That’s been worth a great deal when it comes to seniority.

    Our union has fought some mighty battles to get pay raises and benefits. I enjoy my pay (and think it’s very good) and I love our benefits. We have premium health care that the district sure wouldn’t give us on on their own. Oh, they would provide it for our superintendent who makes an embarrassingly high salary for what he has done. My principal would sure like to have the union representation we have.

  10. CW

    I’d be curious how many of the posters here have worked full-time, and for how long, and in what kind of districts. With all due respect, there seems to be a good deal of unfounded optimism out there. After just six years of teaching in a very high-income suburban district, I can’t even count how many parents I’ve seen harassing my colleagues (and me on one occasion) unfairly through their speed-dial lawyers. I wouldn’t teach here without a union. Ever. The “lower” pay is more than made up for through benefits, pension, advocacy, legal advice, legal services, support systems, and peace of mind. No matter how great a teacher you are, unethical and uninformed people (and there are more of them out there than I care to admit) can end up in a position of authority over you and hurt your career for no legitimate reason. Being able to do my job with excellence without worrying about those people is the best service my union provides me. In the long run that “luxury” in the best interest of my students AND me.

  11. CW

    By the way, I am enjoying reading your blog very much. I’m currently working with a student teacher at my school, and it’s been helpful to remember what it looks like from the other side. Best of luck with your work!

  12. Appreciate the comments — I’m glad to some some varied perspectives.

    Maybe the question is, or should be, could unions keep on good terms with administration and the public if districts weren’t so large, where there would be a lot of “unethical and uninformed people” in a position of authority? It seems that because New York City’s union is so nefariously large that it begins to resemble the Teamsters.

    Or is the blame on mostly anti-union media coverage, or the effects of a popular mayor or superintendent blaming the union with obstruction? Or is there some other cause?

    CW: Thanks. I’m glad I’m not the only one finding useful this exercise in daily blogging.

  13. Ok here is my take on this… If they are paying teachers more the implication is they will teach better? Its kind of insulting to my character, as if I am not teaching to the best of my ability because I am underpaid.

    “I could get your child to read but they aren’t paying me enough.”

    I do not think you would find this comment anywhere.

  14. Well, in terms of their immediate situation, they certainly will get more of their choice of teachers by paying more, and are able to pick an elite crew.

    In terms of their goal of general salary increase, it’s more the idea of attracting talented people to the profession in the first place. I could double my salary by quitting my job and getting an engineering one at a local company. Some talented people have wanted to switch to teaching but couldn’t afford the pay cut.

    Once there’s more a choice of talented teachers, the idea is that the mediocre ones will get booted out of the loop because there will be enough talent to go around rather than having all the schools begging for scraps.

  15. Well said, Mr. Dyer. The comment isn’t that “I don’t get paid enough to teach your kid how to read.” The comment is that teachers don’t get paid enough for them to be uniformly excellent.

  16. dkzody

    It’s as I’ve been saying, I don’t see a lot of people lining up to take my job…and even fewer who want my principal’s job. This is hard work that gets blasted every day in the press. Teachers are blamed for every ill in society and this is after major training and education to get the job in the first place. I’m grateful for a union that does so much for us, and pats us on the back for doing our job, because no one else is looking out for teachers.

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