I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Teaching At a Charter School Means Taking a Pay Cut

After this past Sunday's big, fat, wet kiss to the Newark charter school industry -- see here, here, here, and here -- you'd think the Star-Ledger, New Jersey's biggest newspaper, would make a little room in their op-ed section for someone to express a contrary view.

You'd be wrong.

On Tuesday, the S-L gave space to a charter school employee to tell us why teachers shouldn't fear charter school expansion:
I've been a teacher for four years. While I wasn't always sure what type of school I'd end up in, I've spent my career at BelovED Community Charter School, an independent, high-performing public charter school in Jersey City. It is in this innovative environment that I've been able to experience the flexibility and autonomy that I've always envisioned for my career. 
Despite serving millions of students and employing thousands of educators across the country, these laboratory-like schools are still misunderstood in many communities. Independent charter schools are unique public schools offered bureaucratic freedom in exchange for real results. Just like traditional public schools, they don't charge tuition, are publicly funded and open to anyone who applies—including students with special needs. 
Free from union contracts, my charter school has the freedom to adjust the school day, choose new and exciting curriculum resources and develop strong models for learning. Teachers like me are treated as equal partners with valuable experience and ideas. Personally, I feel empowered by school leadership to teach in a way that is unique to every student in my classroom. [emphasis mine]
Let me start, as I always do with these cases, by stating that I have no doubt the author of this piece, my colleague Jomayra I. Torres, is a dedicated professional and fine teacher. Her school, BelovED CCS, is actually far better than most Jersey City charter schools in serving children in economic disadvantage:

I applaud Ms. Torres for her dedication, and BelovED for its service to Jersey City's children. But let's get one thing straight:

On average, charter school teachers make considerably less than public school teachers -- and BelovED Community Charter School is no exception.

I've got some work coming out soon on this as it relates to all of New Jersey; for now, however, let's look at how BCSS stacks up against the Jersey City Public Schools in teacher pay. Keep in mind that, like almost every other profession, teachers get paid more as they gain experience. Here's how the two school systems compare in pay for various experience levels:*

A starting teacher at JCPS averages about $20,000 more in pay than a starting teacher at BCCS. A teacher with 15 to 19 years of experience will average almost $35,000 more in salary at JCPS than at BCCS.

Most charter schools have inexperienced staff relative to their hosting districts; this is one of the primary ways charter schools suppress their instructional costs. But even accounting for experience, charter teachers make, on average, quite a bit less than their public school colleagues.

I'm glad Ms. Torres enjoys her "flexibility and autonomy," but let's be clear: she is paying a steep financial price for it. She and her fellow BelovED CCS teachers are way underpaid compared to Jersey City's public district school teachers. Which makes me wonder how she can say this:
My message to stakeholders in New Jersey is simple. Charter schools are nothing to fear. My own son attends my school and is making huge gains. As a public charter school teacher, I'm directly benefitting from choices in education and I'm grateful. I wake up knowing that I am in an environment that challenges me professionally and allows me to work with kids that need me most.
Ms. Torres, I'm glad for your son, and I'm glad for your satisfaction with your workplace. But I can't afford to take a $35,000 pay cut, and I doubt many of my fellow public school teachers can afford it either.

And I can't help but wonder if you and your colleagues wouldn't benefit from being paid professional wages as well.

Because it's all about the kids...

* Update: fixed a dumb typo in the graph, and pointed out this excludes administrators.


Giuseppe said...

Good for Ms. Torres, she enjoys what she's doing. But I take great offense at her sniping and demeaning the REAL public schools which she refers to as the Traditional schools. It's a slap at the teachers in the real public schools who are working just as hard as she is. From her cheerleading piece, you might get the impression that the real public schools are inferior to charter schools and are failing the children. That is untrue and it is an insult to the district school teachers. She also takes a swipe at teacher unions, very disappointing. She implies that union contracts make for inferior teaching or that union contracts somehow impede good teaching. What a horrible and false point of view and it's a damn lie. She sounds like some kind of stooge for the Koch brothers but she's not on the same pay level as the Koch brothers. Bottom line, she's anti-public school (the real public schools) and anti union.

Dienne said...

"Free from union contracts, my charter school has the freedom to adjust the school day"

Something tells me that "flexibility" she talks about is something like when Target promises a "flexible schedule" and it turns out to mean that you'd best be flexible because your boss can demand that you work any days at any times without notice.