NYC charter school's $125,000 experiment

Does a non-unionized school that pays teachers a higher salary get better results?

The catch is that with those higher salaries come higher expectations, and unlike most schools, those who don't meet Vanderhoek's standards will be shown the door.

"There's no contract. We're at-will," special education teacher Judy LeFevre told Couric.

LeFevre is a 30-year classroom veteran who was making $40,000 a year when she moved from Tucson to take a job at the school. "I think we all have a lot of trust in terms of how we feel about Zeke and if he really felt he needed to make a change, it would be in the best interest of the students here," she said.

The students are mostly African American and Hispanic, and almost all of them come from poor families.

More than two thirds of the kids are reading below grade level when they get to TEP, like Christian Pena. He had been in the New York City school system for four years but still couldn't read or write when he began fifth grade at TEP.

The school's challenge is one that has bedeviled American educators for decades: how to get poor, minority, inner city kids to achieve at the same levels as kids from more affluent neighborhoods.

"What makes you think you can narrow the achievement gap with this school?" Couric asked Vanderhoek.

"The difference between a great teacher and a mediocre or poor teacher is several grade levels of achievement in a given year," he replied. "A school that focuses all of its energy and its resources on fantastic teaching can bridge the achievement gap."

Asked if he can implement a school like TEP on a larger scale, Vanderhoek said, "Absolutely. We do not take any outside money to support our teachers' salaries."

The school survives on public funding alone, and Vanderhoek is able to pay his teachers well by reallocating resources. There are no state-of-the-art facilities - classes take place in trailers. And the money that would go to pay for an assistant principal, reading specialist and other staff goes into teachers' salaries. But that means the teachers have to do those jobs as well.

"You're doing a lot more than teaching here. So do you ever feel like, 'Well, gosh, I'm making a lot of money, but jeez, I'm doing a lot of jobs here'?" Couric asked Casey Ash, who teaches social studies.

"That's what we signed up for," Ash replied.

They also signed up to be continuously evaluated by Vanderhoek and each other. Even after the last bell, they're still at it, analyzing teaching videos like coaches reviewing game tapes.

Skills like classroom management, getting kids settled in and ready to learn are key.

"The greatest benefit of working here is that it's not okay to just be okay. And every lesson does need to be laser focused and super sharp so that you can get the best outcomes from it," Ash explained.

"It's been very humbling for me. Because it's highlighted certain gaps that I had in my teaching along the way," LeFevre said.

Gaps like developing more effective lesson plans and better ways to track her students' progress.

"So, I had to go through a period of mourning over the teacher that I would have been if I'd gotten this kind of feedback, you know, 25 years ago," she explained.

Turns out she wasn't alone: "At the beginning of the year I felt like I was the worst teacher," Heather Wardwell told Couric.