What Happens If You Just Pay Teachers a Hell of a Lot of Money?

One of the reform ideas proposed by education advocates—though not, admittedly, one of them that’s seen much implementation in policy—has been just paying teachers really well. Maybe if we paid teachers like small business executives they’d perform a lot better.

Well the Equity Project (TEP) Charter School actually tried this. The results are pretty interesting.

Money

TEP is located in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood and enrolls mostly low-income, Hispanic students. It also pays teachers $125,000 a year, much higher than the salary available to other New York City teachers. And it turns out this was pretty effective. According to an evaluation by Mathematica Policy Research:

By the end of the 2012-2013 school year, TEP’s impacts on student achievement were consistently positive across grades and subjects, with especially large effects in math. Using benchmarks for average annual learning gains, the research team found that, compared to similar students in comparable New York City public schools, students who attended TEP for four years had test score gains equal to an additional 1.6 years of school in math, an additional
 0.4 years of school in English language arts, and an additional 0.6 years of school in science. TEP’s cumulative effect on student achievement over four years is about 78% of the Hispanic-white achievement gap in math, 17% in English language arts, and 25% percent in science.

A lot of this, no doubt, has to do with the selection method. The students may have been picked by lottery, but the teachers sure weren’t. If you pay teachers $125,000 a year you can select really, really good teachers. And like the KIPP schools or Teach for America or something they’ll be willing to work really, really hard, and sacrifice their own health and personal lives to make sure their students achieve.

That’s a great thing, but is it scalable? Well no, it isn’t. Even if the extra money directly causes higher education achievement, this is an incredibly inefficient way to improve education.

We can’t pay every teacher $125,000 a year because we just don’t have the money to pay public employees like that. American already spends more money on education than any other developed country and has lower achievement. There’s no way we can use this method to do anything meaningful about public education.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer