With state after state confronting massive budget problems, several governors have been looking to extract whatever they can from public employees like teachers, going after benefits packages and guaranteed job security that unions have won for them. But would teachers be willing to give up those protections for a chance to earn a lot more money?
With a national debate raging over teacher pay, pension, and tenure, Katie Couric explores one New York City public school where change is already underway.
There's a school in New York City that's trying to prove just that. It's a bold new experiment in public education called "TEP," which stands for The Equity Project, a charter school that is publicly funded but privately run. It's offering its teachers $125,000 a year - more than double the national average.
TEP aims to prove that attracting the best and brightest teachers and holding them accountable for results is the essential ingredient to a school's success. Could this school become a national model for the future of public education? That's the $125,000 question.
"You pay your teachers $125,000 a year, which is a lot of money for a teacher in this country. Why?" Katie Couric asked Zeke Vanderhoek, the school's founder and principal.
"Because they're worth it, because teachers are the key, and if we can pay them this with the existing dollars, why aren't we doing it?" he replied.
They're doing it at TEP because Vanderhoek, 34, a former teacher, gets to decide who he hires and how much he pays them.
Asked how he thinks these high salaries will impact student achievement, Vanderhoek told Couric, "I don't think paying people more makes them a better teacher. You take a mediocre teacher, you double their salary, nothing's gonna change. So, if you wanna attract and retain talent, you have to pay for it. "
"And that is ultimately how student achievement will be impacted," he added.
"60 Minutes" has been following the school since it opened its doors a year and a half ago in Washington Heights, a poor, mostly Hispanic neighborhood in upper Manhattan.
There are currently 247 fifth and sixth graders and 15 teachers; classes will eventually run through the eighth grade.
Asked how TEP teachers differ from teachers in other public schools, Vanderhoek said, "They're not. There are great teachers in almost every public school in the city. The difference is that they are often the exception, not the rule. So what we're trying to do is build a school where every teacher is a great teacher."
To find those teachers, Vanderhoek launched a nationwide talent search that's been called the "American Idol" of education. Thousands of applicants have sent in resumes and those who make it to the final round have to spend a day trying out in front of a very tough crowd.
"The first class of teachers, what qualities were you looking for?" Couric asked.
"Their ability to produce some evidence that the students in their classrooms move from point A to point B," Vanderhoek explained. "In order for students to demonstrate that growth, they have to be into it. And so the teacher has to be able to engage students."
The chosen include Joe Carbone, a former NBA trainer, Rhena Jasey, a Harvard grad who's been teaching for eight years, and Gina Galassi, an accomplished violist who teaches music.
"When you first saw the ad that said the starting salary would be $125,000, what did you think?" Couric asked Galassi.
"I thought too good to be true. I said 'This is like some wacko cult' or something. It didn't make sense, you know. What was the catch?" she replied.
Produced by Jenny Dubin