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The Real Risk Is Not Taking One

The Equity Project’s new approach to education is constructive

For years, six-figure starting salaries have been the exclusive privilege of bankers, doctors, and lawyers. But now, a New York City charter school called The Equity Project promises to bring teachers into the $100,000-plus-club as well. The Equity Project, which is located in the historically disadvantaged and largely Hispanic neighborhood of Washington Heights, seeks to fundamentally change the paradigm of American public education: By offering its teachers base salaries of $125,000, the school hopes to bring the best and brightest educators into its classrooms—a logical response to the large body of empirical research that suggests that teacher quality is one of the most important factors in students’ success.

Whether or not this bold experiment in education will prove successful remains to be seen. But regardless of the outcome, The Equity Project—the brainchild of recent Yale graduate Zeke M. Vanderhoek—represents a sharp rebuke to the culture of complaisance and mediocrity that has paralyzed the American education system.

Obviously, these prodigious salaries, which are about two and a half times the national average, will require cuts to be made in other areas: The school plans to hire only two social workers and no assistant principals, and will require all students to take Latin and music rather than offer a wide array of electives. These drawbacks have naysayers forecasting the school’s eventual failure, but given the current state of American education, this innovative model at least critically rethinks the status quo in our nation’s education policy.

For years, American students have consistently underperformed on standardized measures of science, math, and reading compared to other developed nations, despite the fact that per pupil funding for education in America is among the highest in the world. Clearly, something in the current system is not working, and the problem may not be with the total amount of resources so much as the way in which they are allocated.

Given the high stakes, the most destructive response to the current crisis in education is complacency. Fortunately, The Equity Project makes a strong stand for challenging accepted methods of pedagogy and developing innovative ways to teach some of America’s most at-risk students.

In addition, The Equity Project presents a model for higher, more effectively structured teacher salaries. In contrast to the appallingly low pay offered at most schools across the country, The Equity Project’s substantial salaries will attract better candidates to the teaching profession, allowing it to acquire the prestige it deserves. The Equity Project also makes use of performance-based bonuses, which represent an essential means to incentivize good teaching.

Ideally, The Equity Project, which plans to eventually grow to 28 teachers and 480 students, will provide an answer to the educational woes of its pupils. But regardless, we hope that its innovative approach is contagious, and shakes the American educational establishment out of its collective slumber.
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