Who’s Raking in the Big Bucks in “CharterWorld”?

Here’s a thought: What if school administrators were paid on a per-pupil basis?  The salaries could be computed based on total enrollment, or, if you want to use VAM, a value-added measure, then the $$-per-pupil could be based on the number of students successfully completing the year.

For fun, let’s compare the pay pulled down by public school superintendents with the money paid to the CEO’s of some charter school networks.   Before you read on, write down your hunch: which school CEO/Superintendent is raking in the most on a per-student basis? And who’s the lowest paid on a per-student basis?

Let’s begin with Chicago, where the public school enrollment (including charter schools) has dipped to 392,000 students. The Chicago school leader (called the CEO) is paid $250,000.  That means he’s paid 64 cents per pupil.  Factor out the 61,000 students in charter schools, and Forrest Claypool’s wages per student go up to 76 cents per kid.

One of Chicago’s leading charter networks, the nationally recognized Noble Network of Charter Schools, paid its CEO and founder Michael Milkie a salary of $209,520 and a bonus of $20,000.  NNCS, which received the Broad Prize last year, enrolls 11,000 students, meaning that Mr. Milkie is paid $21.00 per student.

Let’s turn our attention to New York City. Chancellor Carmen Fariña presides over a school system with 1,1o0,000 students and is paid $227,727 per year.  That comes to $.20 per child.  But she also receives her retirement annuity of $208,506, so if we factor that in, she’s pulling down a whopping $.40 per child.

New York’s most prominent charter school operator is, of course, Eva Moskowitz, the founder and CEO of Success Academies. She has received a significant pay raise and now makes $567,000 a year, as Ben Chapman reported in the New York Daily News.  Success Academies enrolls 11,000 students, the same number as in Chicago’s Noble Network.

Let’s do the math.  567,000 divided by 11,000 equals 51.35, meaning that Ms. Moskowitz is earning $51.35 per student, nearly two-and-one-half times what Mr. Milkie is paid per student.

If Carmen Fariña were running Success Academies instead of the nation’s largest school district, at her current pay rate of 40 cents per student she’d be earning $4400 a year!

Put another way, Eva Moskowitz is being paid about 128 times more per student than Chancellor Fariña.

(I was at a dinner last night with her predecessor, Dennis Walcott, who made essentially the same salary when he was Chancellor.  The look on his face when I told him the numbers was priceless!)

However, Eva Moskowitz doesn’t come close to claiming the crown for “Highest Paid Charter School CEO,” because New York City is home to a charter network that enrolls only 1400 students and pays its leader in the neighborhood of $525,000 per year.  (I write ‘in the neighborhood’ because the most recent salary isn’t available, so this number is based on recent years and the pattern of annual increases.)

You’ve done the math in your head, right?  $525,000 for 1400 students means this CEO is raking in $375 PER STUDENT. Just imagine if Chancellor Fariña had come out of retirement to take this job!  At her current pay scale, she would be bringing home $560 a year, not $425,000.

This charter network’s leader must not have a “pay for performance” contract.  The network is notorious for losing students, as the chart below indicates.  On the left, 126 students in full-day kindergarten; on the right, only 36 students in 12th grade.  Pretty clear what happens year after year.  In another school, 119 kindergarteners and 33 high school seniors.



The common argument for charter schools is that they are “life-changing,” but just ONE of that year’s graduates headed off to college, while the others reported ‘plans unknown.’ In another school, one was headed for a 4-year college, three to 2-year institutions, and 28 with ‘plans unknown.’

Like Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academies, this network loses a lot of students, but, unlike Success Academies, the remaining students here perform poorly.  Here’s the percentage of students in one school who scored ‘proficient’ in English Language Arts, by grade: 5th-8%; 6th-12%; 7th-11%; and 8th-28%.  In another school, 4%, 20%, 17% and 30% .

In Math: 5th-6%; 6th-36%; 7th-52%; and 8th-48%.  In another school, 27%, 37%, 39% and 34%.  (And as the NAEP scores below suggest, those high-ish math scores may be illusory.)

Scores on the NAEP, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, were unimpressive.  In 4th grade, 36% scored ‘proficient’ in Reading and 35% in Math.  In 8th grade, 33% scored ‘proficient’ in Reading and 31% in Math.  In another of her schools the respective numbers are 36%, 35% 33% and 31%.

This same charter network has famously high turnover rates among teachers too.  In the most recent report, 38% of teachers departed, meaning that 4 out of every 10 teachers left. In another school, 31% left.  One thing that students in high-poverty schools need is continuity, which they apparently do not get in this network.

Oh, by the way, the CEO who makes all that money also has her own car and driver, according to Ben Chapman of the Daily News.

I am referring to Dr. Deborah Kenny, the founder of Harlem Village Academies, a network of just five schools and 1400 students.  Somehow, I suspect she’s happy to have Eva Moskowitz taking all the flack in the media about harsh discipline and high turnover rates, because that means her network’s performance is not being scrutinized.  It clearly should be.

In fairness, some traditional public school districts in New York State are paying their superintendents inflated amounts when computed on a per-student basis.  Brookhaven-Comsewogue Union Free District has about 3900 students and pays its superintendent $462,000 or $118 per student.  Mount Sinai Union Free District has about 2600 students and pays its leader $403,000, or $155 per student. And Tuckahoe Union Free District, with just 1100 students, pays its superintendent $388,000, or $353 per student.

But that doesn’t keep Deborah Kenny from taking home the Blue Ribbon in the “Earns Most, Does Least” competition.


25 thoughts on “Who’s Raking in the Big Bucks in “CharterWorld”?

  1. Yawn. Innovators vs Steady Eddies. High performers vs low performers.

    But really, the salaries of the top educational officials are the last of our problems.

    But seniority based salaries of public school teachers regardless of performance is just an evil system, because is does not value quality teachers.


    • I have been teaching for ten years with strong evaluations in all areas and I was topped out on salary my sixth year teaching. I can only hope for inflationary increases from now on, and as a teacher in Arizona that has not happened for the past 5 years. Not all teachers have salaries figured the same way. Even in the same city different districts pay differently. Be careful making such broad statements.


      • [I have been teaching for ten years with strong evaluations in all areas and I was topped out on salary my sixth year teaching. I can only hope for inflationary increases from now on, and as a teacher in Arizona that has not happened for the past 5 years.]
        Katharine, I was talking about New York City, but, broadly speaking, I support:
        – Merit pay for public school teachers
        – Substantial across the board pay increase for the well performing teachers in public schools

        Sorry that your salary maxed out after 6 years – if you are a top performing teacher, that is just not right.
        I suspect that you and I want the same things in this regard.


      • This is an important truth. In my experience, not only are no two states likely to be the same in how they compensate teachers, but often not even two districts in the same state. Due to this fact, it has become deadly to teach inside those districts most greedy for test-score “accountability” money where merit pay, test scores and VAM evaluations have managed to flip any loyalty to hard work, career dedication and a geographic stability. Longevity is no longer seen as an asset by those who demand an instantaneous test-score “magic.”

        Liked by 1 person

  2. So, Yuri, you really think Eva is worth a thousand times more per student than the head of NYPS? Hah!

    And who is to measure exactly how a public school teacher’s performance should be measured? If you gather twelve people, they will give you at least twelve different ways to do so, and they won’t at all agree.

    The reason that seniority rules are out there is that they are really, really easy to measure. And in my opinion, in general, teaching is a skill that takes many years to master.


    • Most of the private companies figured out how to measure performance, not only for menial jobs (widgets per hour), but for high-end creative jobs as well. I don’t want to get into the weeds of the methodology, but everyone does it, and teachers aren’t any particularly different, but this nihilistic pessimism translates into a perpetual lack of accountability.

      Personally, I would love it if a good teacher with 3-4 years of experience in NYC were making around $80k or more, but I would never support paying that much based purely on seniority.

      As a son of a teacher, I agree that teaching skills take years to master. But it is also true, that you can find a teacher with 5 years of experience to be vastly superior, that a teacher with 15 – you don’t need me to tell you that.


      • There has to be some kind of predictability to teacher pay. Applying business strategies to salary doesn’t work when revenue isn’t a factor in performance. Public sector budgets are dependent on tax revenue and budgets set by elected officials. Teachers performance will never impact the budget of their school system.


      • Brett wrote [There has to be some kind of predictability to teacher pay. Applying business strategies to salary doesn’t work when revenue isn’t a factor in performance.] Brett, you have a point, this is not trivial, but can be done. Medium and large Large businesses learned to how measure performance of employees not only in their profit centers, but in all kinds of other, non-revenue functions, like R&D, technology, operations, Legal & Risk, HR & Trainers etc…

        In case of teachers, this could look like this:
        – The manager’s assessment (like by an assistant principal etc…)
        – 360 evaluation by the peers, plus a couple of expert teachers at the school
        – Test scores. Compared to the peers in the school and in several other schools with similar student population, which teacher made the most progress during the last year
        – Personally, I would figure out how to add feedback from the parents into this

        The entire developed world performs these assessments, using some variations of these methods, and there is surely a way to find a formula, that will work in New York City.. But the fundamental fact is – a compensation model, that values seniority over competence, reinforces a mediocre organizational culture that doesn’t value great teachers, and that is just rotten.


      • What is scariest about Yuri N. is he thinks you can measure performance by how many non-performing kids you weed out of a school.

        His child is one of the “lucky” kids at Success Academy whose parents are middle class, college educated, and don’t need a whole lot of expert teaching. I assume Yuri introduced them to books at a young age, read with them, and did all the things that makes his child a very easy student by age 5.

        Yuri is incredibly impressed that a charter school can teach his kids! Woo woo! He looks the other way when that charter school rids of itself of any kid that might impact the classroom and take the teacher’s attention away from his own child. And it’s not that the child is removed to the classroom to another setting in the school that might be more accommodating. Because that would take money from the education of his own child as the school would still have to use resources to pay for the education that child would need. That child must be removed and put in a public school classroom with far less money so that child can impact the teaching of 30 other children — most who didn’t have anywhere close to the advantages BEFORE entering school that Yuri’s children had. That way Yuri can bash and bash those teachers at those schools because they just aren’t getting the results that the school he admires so much does with his kid.

        And then he can post frequently about how improvement can be “measured” while at the same time desperately defending the fact that his own school makes sure their teachers are ONLY measured with children who are guaranteed to do well or out the door they go.

        I read these posts by the typical affluent college-educated Success Academy parents who see no evil as long as their own children are well-treated and I am amazed. Yuri, I don’t blame you for choosing a charter school that has resources and donations to lavish on your child. But I do blame you for ignoring all the children weeded out who pay the cost. That is on you. You enable it by your constant posts defending it.

        This nonsense that you can somehow “measure” teachers when certain charter school teachers NEVER have to teach a kid who doesn’t do well in their class because the school will just put them on a got to go list if they aren’t showing improvement! It’s like drug companies measuring drugs where one drug is tested on a group of children where any child who doesn’t respond is weeded out, and the second drug is tested on a group of children who remain in the study to the end (and also get the ones the first group rejects). It’s hard for me to believe that someone who professes himself an expert in measurement would not recognize how invalid and silly such a study would be. But you certainly seem to think that a study like that would be valid.


    • Trying to compare the worth of a Charter School CEO vs. a Superintendent of a city based upon the number of students they educate is idiotic. That’s similar to comparing, say the CEO of Apple and the CEO of IBM based on the amount of computers they produce. It tells you ZERO about either of them and what they’ve been able to accomplish. Yea, maybe IBM can produce more computers cheaply, but maybe people that purchase Apple love their product, and are willing to deal with the lines and costs because they value the innovation of the end design.

      Maybe the CEO of that Charter School was able to raise millions of dollars. Maybe the CEO of that Charter School found an innovative way to educate children that did not require the school to spend $xxx on textbooks, or teachers, or band instructors, or football teams, or football and baseball stadiums. Maybe that CEO gets paid that amount of money because they have proven their success.

      Instead of comparing these leaders by the number of students they educate you should take a closer look at their accomplishments and what they’ve been able to bring to their organizations. Is the Charter School’s CEO inflated? Possibly, but maybe their innovation has saved the school millions, or maybe their fundraising capabilities have raised millions. Maybe they’ve been able to help a greater portion of their students graduate from college and obtain employment (something not shown on standardized test scores). But simply comparing salaries to the number of children they oversee is way too simplified and backwards.

      Educating children can happen in several different ways and under several different leadership styles and strategies. If you think these charter school CEOs are being overpaid and that these schools are not producing quality outcomes, then show that. Show how charter schools have an adverse effect on children in comparison to local districts. Show how it doesn’t matter who is the CEO of a charter school, because anyone in those shoes can accomplish the same results, and that they’d be willing to do it at a lower rate.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Phil Ochs, how much is it worth when you can find a charter school operator willing to do all that has to be done to weed out all the at-risk children who will impact the charter school’s results and the school’s ability to market itself as the answer to failing public schools?

        I agree with you that you may have to pay a pretty high salary to find a person willing to act in such an unethical and reprehensible manner. Most ethical educators wouldn’t do it even if you offered them a salary of $750,000! And the unethical ones demand a premium because it’s a pretty lucrative business if you can show a profit in education. And by profit, I mean “high scores” that bring in donations.

        I wonder what price you’d do it for? How much would it take for you to run a charter school that counsels out the at-risk kids who hurt the test scores, especially if holding them back a year or two isn’t working? When you figure out your own price, then you can probably estimate the right price that those charter school administrators are worth.


  3. Yuri wrote 9:05pm [In case of teachers, this could look like this:
    – The manager’s assessment (like by an assistant principal etc…)
    – 360 evaluation by the peers, plus a couple of expert teachers at the school
    – Test scores. Compared to the peers in the school and in several other schools with similar student population, which teacher made the most progress during the last year
    – Personally, I would figure out how to add feedback from the parents into this]

    First you have to identify the ‘expert teachers’ at the school. Put several administrators together in a room to define an expert teacher and no two will agree.

    Second – you can not fairly evaluate a teacher on test scores. A teacher with special education students or English language learners, or low income students in the class will have a disadvantage over a teacher who has only high income students in the classroom. Then add in the students who didn’t feel well but came to school because of ‘the test’. Or the student who could not sleep the night before because of (add in the worse scenario). In your case, all the teachers in the poor neighborhoods would not get much in the way of pay.

    Third – adding subjective feedback from parents or even students gives you a lot of mad parent feedback because little Johnny got an F on the report card.

    It has been researched that merit pay does not work in an educational setting. VAM does not work in an educational setting. Just because it works in the business world does not mean it can work in all places.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are raising objections that can be easily overcome and/or controlled for.

      But I find it frustrating that mediocre administrators and unions managed to convince a lot of good people, that some common sense meritocracy measures will never work in an educational setting.

      Meanwhile, the current system encourages and promotes mediocrity, and so many idealistic your teachers get discouraged and leave the field within the first 5 years!

      Meritocracy is not just about salaries and job security – it’s about the core culture of the NYC DOE. The best teachers have to be recognized and promoted, so that they can be a good example for the kids, as well as to their peers, so that other good teachers can learn from them. And the worst teachers should look for another profession. Meritocracy is also about numbers, where high performing young teachers would get retained ahead of mediocre tenured ones.

      Teachers are our most precious resource, and they are way more important than, say, class size, because most parents would rather have their child in a class of 28 with a great teacher, than in a class of 15 with a mediocre one.

      If there is a will, there is a way.


      • I thank you for your insight into class size. As a veteran teacher working in a low-income high school, I learned over the years that I was much happier when I had large classes and a lot of supportive administrative stability than in later years when, with the advent of NCLB test-score reforms, I occasionally had very small classes but ALSO an ever-churning, top-down-punitive, non-supportive administration. Give me large classes — but quit blaming me, quit harassing me, quit silencing me and simply offer me a traditional administrative support, and I’d be back to happy.

        Liked by 1 person

      • “The best teachers have to be recognized and promoted, so that they can be a good example for the kids, as well as to their peers, so that other good teachers can learn from them.”

        But what happens when your “model” teachers and “model” principals are the ones who are the best at ridding your school of the hard-to-teach kids? I’m sure the other teachers at the school are grateful, but measuring how successful an educator is at passing the buck is not something you mentioned above. I wonder why.

        It pretty easy to pretend that the 28 or 25 or whatever number of well-behaved kids left can be taught in large class sizes when the “best” teachers are very adept at making sure the kids who won’t do well in large class sizes mysteriously disappear. But of course, some teacher somewhere else will be teaching those kids in large class sizes and I am sure you will be only to happy to measure their performance and find it lacking.


  4. Some commenters have stated (without supporting data) that everyone in the civilized world evaluates teachers this way–actually, they don’t in the countries where the educational system is the most admired. And most parents would want a great teacher with a class of 28 over a mediocre teacher with 15. Really? How many parents were in your survey? The ones that I have met over 15 years in schools were more impressed with small class sizes because they knew this would mean more individual attention for their children. It is also worth noting that many teachers who were mediocre with a large class could be much more effective with 15. Which leads me to question: given the tax base for teachers’ salaries, where are we going to get 3 million excellent candidates to opt for a profession that is everybody’s whipping boy? We are already seeing evidence if a real teacher shortage around the country.

    From personal experience I can say that what is excellent for one student’s learning style is not necessarily excellent for another, but that over 12 years, a public school student should be exposed to enough of a mix of teachers to succeed if that student is allowed to enjoy the learning experience. This actually has worked for all but the poorest neighborhood schools, so people who trash the whole public school system are either venture capitalists looking for a great tax break for investing in “underserved” areas or people who don’t want to send their children to school with poor (read: minority) children.


    • [Some commenters have stated … that everyone in the civilized world evaluates teachers this way]. Andrea, I actually said that the entire developed world uses some form of performance assessment for employees (I didn’t say teachers). But let me ask you a fundamental question – do you think that NYC DOE should be more meritocratic towards teachers, compared to its current state?

      Just because I think that the quality of the teacher is more important, than the class size, it doesn’t mean that I think that smaller class size is not goodness.

      I agree that trashing schools is counter-productive. Some on the traditional public school side do it, and some on the charter side do it as well, and both sides would do better if they focused their energy on bettering themselves.


      • FYI – saying “the quality of a teacher is more important than the class size…” is something that the anti-teachers’ union privatizers say all the time. It’s something certain charter school operators testify to that gets them lauded by Republican lawmakers who say “who needs the money for small classes, we can just get rid of the union and schools will have terrific teachers who can make sure 100% of their at-risk kids test at or above standards in math.” And people believe them until finally they start looking closely at how ruthlessly the at-risk kids who aren’t learning are weeded out in the schools where the educators are claiming “class size isn’t as important as a great teacher”. That kind of lie is kind of shockingly reprehensible, isn’t it?

        Sadly, there are still folks unwilling to call out the lies — despite the great harm those lies have already caused many at-risk kids. Those folks are still insisting that those charter schools weren’t weeding out the kids because they found lots of them couldn’t learn in large class sizes. Apparently they just liked humiliating them for sport! And if so many of them hadn’t left, they would have definitely been scoring high on standardized tests in those large class sizes because after all, the non-union teachers are just so excellent.

        “Trashing schools” is not what is unproductive. Dishonesty is what is unproductive. If charter schools had been honest in the beginning about who they were and were most certainly NOT willing to educate in their quest for high scores, many children who are suffering now in underfunded public schools would have been better served.

        Democracy works best when the people demand honesty. When it is all about how much the richest of us can hire expensive public relations firms to do their best to promote a dishonest debate, we are all harmed. And you are either part of the problem of part of the solution.


    • Thank so much for making these excellent points.

      It is true that the teacher who is not good for your kid is the favorite teacher of two other children. And it very well may not be reflected in a test score. Your child may score high despite being so anxiety-ridden from a teacher that school becomes something to fear. While other students may not “improve”that year according to some supposedly accurate data, but the love of learning that teacher imparted serves that child for the next 5 years.

      It is also true that a teacher who is terrific when in a class of 15 eager to learn children may be terrible in a class of 25 disinterested kids from at-risk families. But I don’t know of any teacher who is “better” when teaching a large class than a small class. That’s why private schools don’t have classes twice as large with the “best” teachers. And I’ve never met a private school parent who said “our PTA is working on larger class sizes because all the parents want XXX teacher who is obviously the best and there is no reason that she can’t teach 30 kids instead of 15.”


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