The Equity Project Bets that Education is All About Teachers

The Equity Project (TEP) Charter School made a bet this year that the most important factor in the academic success of its students was the quality of their teachers. And they have gone all in.

The TEP Charter School has implemented a radical redesign of the traditional scholastic model, greatly increasing the focus on their teachers. And why not? Our teachers are the ones who inspire us, engage us, and encourage us to learn through everyday contact. This new model has TEP searching for the most valuable and talented educators the country has to offer. In locating and bringing these teachers to TEP, they employ the three R’s: Rigorous Qualifications, Redefined expectations, and Revolutionary Compensation.

Their Rigorous qualifications require that applicants submit proof of their expert subject-area knowledge, teaching expertise and experience, strong curriculum development skills, and outstanding verbal ability. To display this they must submit written accounts, video records of in-class sessions with corresponding written analysis, originally developed curricular tools, a day-long teaching audition, and more.

TEP has also redefined the expectations for their teachers by focusing on one guiding principle: “students are best served by teachers who make their own continued growth a priority.” TEP focuses on their teacher’s day by incorporating preparation and observation sessions and requiring that each teacher teach a single subject and grade level. This allows them to use all their preparation time for that single subject. They focus on their teacher’s year by incorporating a 6-week Summer Development Institute each summer to evaluate successes and failures of the past school year, set challenges and goals for themselves, and plan concrete changes for the upcoming school year. In the long term, TEP allows its teachers to take a 1 year sabbatical from TEP after four or five consecutive teaching years. These sabbaticals can be used for employment (a think tank), education (obtaining an MAT), or for travelling and all of which serve to promote the growth of TEP’s teachers.

One of the most interesting aspects of TEPs strategy lies in their revolutionary view of teacher compensation. Each teacher earns an annual base salary of $125,000 with benefits and the potential to earn a bonus of up to $25,000 (increasing by $5,000 each year of employment) depending on how well they meet the goals they set for themselves. TEP is able to afford such compensation formulas without receiving any more funding than the standard New York City Charter School.

How can a school afford to compensate their teachers this way?

Well, TEP claims that through more highly qualified teachers they increase their productivity and quality, which frees up funding to be used as teacher compensation. For example, TEP does not employ any Assistant Principals or Supervisors other than the Principal nor do they contract any of their instructional services to educational consultants or other organizations.

This idea that teacher compensation should reflect teaching ability allows TEP to attract the teachers that meet the first 2 of their three R’s: Rigorous Qualifications and Redefined expectations. NPR recently ran a story on Joe Carborne, the new gym teacher for TEP. He exemplifies TEPs mission to find the best teachers possible through competitive compensation. The former strength trainer of the Los Angeles Lakers and personal strength coach of Kobe Bryant, Joe Carborne brings an enthusiasm to gym class that might seem foreign to classically trained public school students.

TEP is working hard to bring the best teachers from around the country to their students. However, even if this strategy were implemented nationwide, we would not be able to solve our education problems. If every school offered $125,000 salaries we would soon exhaust our supply of exemplary educators. For strategies like this to work on a larger scale, we need to remain focused not only on bringing the best and brightest to train our children, but also on increasing the supply of these great teachers. Higher levels of compensation for teachers sounds like a great incentive to encourage more people to strive to become the exemplary teachers that America needs.