CBSN

Serendipity

SERENDIPITY....The New York Times reports on a new charter school that plans to find out if hiring great teachers really makes a difference:
A New York City charter school set to open in 2009 in Washington Heights will test one of the most fundamental questions in education: Whether significantly higher pay for teachers is the key to improving schools.

The school, which will run from fifth to eighth grades, is promising to pay teachers $125,000, plus a potential bonus based on schoolwide performance.

....The school will open with seven teachers and 120 students, most of them from low-income Hispanic families. At full capacity, it will have 28 teachers and 480 students. It will have no assistant principals, and only one or two social workers. Its classes will have 30 students.

I'm a little confused. Suppose this experiment works and the kids do great. What does that prove? Only that school performance can be raised if you manage to attract the top 0.01% of the teachers in the vicinity of New York City. Then what?

You can't scale this up because not every school can have the top 0.01% of the teachers. Nor can you conclude that wildly high salaries will attract hordes of great teachers who are currently working in higher paying areas. There's no way of knowing that. You can, I suppose, tentatively conclude that good teachers make a difference, but I don't think anyone seriously doubts that. What we really want to know is what it takes to produce large numbers of great teachers from our existing pool of college grads, and this experiment won't tell us.

So I don't really get it. Still, I suppose you never know what serendipity will produce when you let people do seemingly odd experiments, and maybe something useful will come out of this. In fact, it's one of the reasons I like charter schools. Within bounds, I'm in favor of letting 'em experiment and seeing what happens. Maybe we'll all be surprised by the results in Washington Heights, not least the guy whose idea this was in the first place.