Anyone familiar with this blog knows that I’m not a fan of public education. And here are a few headlines that explain why.
New York City spends $21,980 per student. Given that the average class size in NYC is 26, the typical NYC classroom brings in around $571K in tax dollars. That’s right, $571K! And even with all this money sloshing around, there isn’t enough money to pay teachers adequately and furnish students with all the classroom supplies they need. Where the heck is all the money going?
But wait, it gets worse.
I recently came across an HBO documentary called Class Divide (see below). And in this documentary, the producers explore the prospects of students who attend two different schools separated by a lone city street. On one side of the street is a NYC public school. On the other side is an elite private school where the tuition is $45K annually.
Now a question. Which students do you suppose have better prospects? If you said the students at the private school, go straight to the head of the class. Yes, according to the producers of Class Divide, there’s no way NYC can effectively teach math and English to kids when it only has $22K per student to spend. In order to do its job, NYC will have to start spending in the neighborhood of $45K per student. And that makes perfect sense to me. After all, if I can throw a car analogy at you, everyone knows that it’s damn near impossible to commute to work effectively in a Kia. In order to get to work on time, and have the mental bandwidth to tackle your duties, you need a BMW at the very least.
Doing More with Less
Let’s suppose for the moment that NYC schools, and most public schools in the country, are grossly underfunded. Is there a way to improve education, mitigate the effects of class on achievement, increase teacher pay, and do all these wonderful things without socking the taxpayers with higher taxes? I think there is. Here’s my plan.
1. Bring the adjunct teaching model of higher education to K-12 education. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the adjunct teaching model of higher education, this is a strategy used by colleges to reduce instruction costs. Adjunct professors work part-time, teaching one to two courses a semester. And because they’re part-time, they don’t get any benefits, and they’re paid substantially less than their full-time counterparts. At the K-12 level, the adjunct teaching model would look like this.
2. Adjunct teachers wouldn’t be paid a dime.
3. Adjunct teachers would be required to teach at least one 20-40 minute lesson every day to a full class or a small group for the entire school year.
4. Preferably, adjunct teachers would have at least a bachelor’s degree. But they wouldn’t need one. Expertise doesn’t always come with a stamp of approval from the college-industrial complex, and schools shouldn’t have to turn away the likes of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg.
5. Half the money saved by the adjunct teaching model would be paid out to full-time teachers in the form of bonuses. The other half would be used to pay down school debt, build up a rainy-day fund, or send the taxpayers a refund.
Now, to show you what a game-changer this plan is to K-12 education, I want to focus on NYC. NYC, because it is one of the premiere cities in the world, is teeming with highly intelligent and highly driven people. And many of these highly intelligent and highly driven people have a profound desire to help the unfortunate. In other words, NYC has tens of thousands of brilliant people who would gladly share their knowledge with the city’s public school students for FREE. That’s right. If NYC adopted my adjunct teaching model, it would have world-class doctors teaching biology, New York Times journalists teaching English composition, Wall Street quants teaching math, Silicon Alley techies teaching mobile app development, NYU historians teaching social studies, Broadway choreographers teaching dance, and professional athletes teaching physical fitness. The amount of talent waiting to be mined outside of the traditional teacher staffing pipeline (i.e., graduates of teachers college) is truly staggering. My plan allows the NYC public schools to mine that gold.
But wait, there’s more. Not only would my adjunct teaching model be a boon to instruction in NYC’s schools, it would also be a boon to NYC teachers. Consider the following example.
School A has 100 teachers and each is paid a salary of $90,000. The instruction budget for School A is thus $9 million.
Now suppose that School A decides to take advantage of the adjunct teaching model. As teachers retire, quit, or receive a pink slip, it turns to adjuncts to fill the void. After a few years of pursuing this strategy, 25% of its classroom instruction is being handled by adjuncts. School A now only has 75 full-time teachers. If full-time teachers were each making $100,000 at this time, they would each be entitled to a $16,667 bonus at the conclusion of the school year. How so? Remember, under my proposal, full-time teachers would be entitled to half the money saved by implementing my adjunct teaching model. One hundred teachers being paid $100K each requires an instruction budget of $10 million. Seventy-five teachers being paid $100K each requires an instruction budget of $7.5 million. That’s a savings of $2.5 million. Take half of that and divide it by 75, and you come up with the $16,667 bonus for each full-time teacher. Pretty neat, huh?
The Tyranny of the Status Quo
I don’t see any downside to bringing my adjunct teaching model to K-12 public education. Students and taxpayers would get access to some really superb teachers at a great cost (free), full-time public school teachers would be paid more, and the civic-minded talent out there would have a great opportunity to give back to their communities and make some headway against the seemingly intractable class divide.
But my adjunct teaching model will never see the light of day in NYC’s public schools or any public school system in the country for that matter. Simply put, public school teachers, their union representatives, and their allies in higher education would never go for it. The Randi Weingartens of the world would start spouting things like…
“Allow untrained adults to teach our children for free?”
“Some of whom might not even have a bachelor’s degree?”
“Why, this would give school administrators an incentive to force out or fire dedicated public servants and replace them with scabs. It would destroy public education.”
Some years ago, President Obama created a political stir by accusing small-town Americans of being “bitter clingers.” And there was a lot of wisdom in President Obama’s ham-fisted remarks. But what President Obama failed to point out is that those afflicted with the bitter-clinging disease aren’t just found in our factory-depleted towns and trailer parks. The bitter-clinging disease even afflicts those who live in our big cities and have college degrees and very fashionable thoughts. And the sad truth is that our public educators are as bitter and clingy as any rube in the hinterlands. Rather than embrace any idea that would surely bring innovation, competition, and energy to the education realm (i.e., vouchers, homeschooling, or my adjunct teaching model), our public educators bitterly cling to an education model that was crafted in the 19th century for a factory era that no longer exists.
Yes, it’s all about the children until something threatens the power, revenue, and egos of the education-industrial complex. PUBLIC EDUCATORS HEAL THYSELVES!
My brother-in-law is one of the smartest and kindest people I have ever known. He’s also a retired Manhattanite who spent his entire professional career in the IT wing of the financial sector. There’s no doubt in my mind that he could easily teach a math, programming, or personal finance class in junior high or high school. And my guess is that he would be very intrigued with the possibility of becoming an adjunct teacher. But we’ll never find out. The education-industrial complex has no interest in rattling the status quo. So my brother-in-law, rather than sharing his immense knowledge with the city’s public school students for free, will continue to enjoy his days at the gym, his favorite museums, and his theater classes at Hunter College. Sigh.
Okay, groovy freedomists, that’s all I got. What say you? Is my idea of bringing the adjunct teaching model to the K-12 level a taxpayer-friendly way to improve public education? Or is my idea a total affront to the teaching profession that should never see the light of day? Let me know what you think when you get a chance. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Peace.