Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. How Teachers Can Earn Millions

 

Last year, the comedy duo Key & Peele’s TeachingCenter sketch imagined what it would be like if teachers were treated like pro-athletes, earning millions, being drafted in widely televised events, and starring in car commercials. We’re not likely to see the latter two anytime soon, but some teachers are already earning seven figures.

The sketch inspired think pieces arguing that K-12 teachers should be paid more, but without making any fundamental changes to the existing system. Matt Barnum at The Seventy-Four brilliantly satirized this view in calling for pro-athletes to be treated more like teachers: stop judging teams based on wins or players based on points scored, eliminate performance pay in favor of seniority pay, and get rid of profits.

Barnum’s serious point, of course, is that these factors all contribute to athletes’ high salaries. There are at least two other major factors: the relative scarcity of highly talented athletes and their huge audience. The world’s best curlers don’t make seven figures because no one cares about curling (apologies to any Canadian readers), and while high-quality football referees are crucial to a sport with a huge audience, they’re a lot more replaceable than a good quarterback.

But what if we combined these ingredients? What if there was a for-profit system where high-quality teachers had access to a huge audience and they were paid based on their performance?

Actually, such a system already exists:

Kim Ki-hoon earns $4 million a year in South Korea, where he is known as a rock-star teacher—a combination of words not typically heard in the rest of the world. Mr. Kim has been teaching for over 20 years, all of them in the country’s private, after-school tutoring academies, known as hagwons. Unlike most teachers across the globe, he is paid according to the demand for his skills—and he is in high demand.

He may be a “rock star” but how does Mr. Kim have an audience large enough that he earns more than the average Major League Baseball player? Answer: The Internet.

Mr. Kim works about 60 hours a week teaching English, although he spends only three of those hours giving lectures. His classes are recorded on video, and the Internet has turned them into commodities, available for purchase online at the rate of $4 an hour. He spends most of his week responding to students’ online requests for help, developing lesson plans and writing accompanying textbooks and workbooks (some 200 to date).

In the United States, several companies are taking a similar approach to higher education. Last week, Time Magazine profiled Udemy, one of the largest providers of digital higher education:

On Feb. 12, Udemy will announce that more than 10 million students have taken one of its courses. In the U.S., there were about 13 million students working toward a four-year degree during fall 2015 semester, according to the Department of Education. It is another example of the rising popularity of online education as college costs have boomed in the United States. Americans hold $1.2 trillion in student loan debt, second only to mortgages in terms of consumer obligations. Entering the workforce deep in the red could be a handicap that follows graduates the rest of their careers, economists say.

Digital instruction is still in the early stages of development, and research on its impact so far has been mixed. It’s not for everyone. However, it holds the promise of providing students much greater access to top instructors at a lower cost. At the same time, as Joanne Jacobs highlighted, it also gives great instructors access to a much larger audience, and that can translate into significant earnings. As Time reports:

Udemy courses can be rewarding for the platform’s instructors, too. Rob Percival, a former high school teacher in the United Kingdom, has made $6.8 million from a Udemy web development course that took him three months to build. “It got to the stage several months ago where I hit a million hours of viewing that particular month,” he says. “It’s a very different experience than the classroom. The amount of good you can do on this scale is staggering. It’s a fantastic feeling knowing that it’s out there, and while I sleep people can still learn from me.”

Digital instruction is not a panacea for all our education policy challenges (nothing is), and it’s unlikely that it will replace in-person learning, especially for younger students. But it is a good example of how harnessing the market can improve the lot of both students and teachers.

Originally posted at Cato-at-Liberty.

There are 15 comments.

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  1. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Like.

    I’m gonna remember that Matt Barnum piece the next time I one of the nurses union’s downtown bus shelter ads making the same complaint that they also aren’t paid like sports stars.

    • #1
    • February 19, 2016, at 12:25 PM PST
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  2. skoook Inactive

    As a grand parent part of my job is scouting superior affordable learning for my grand children. This could be a could be a good “space” for ricochet to excel in.

    • #2
    • February 19, 2016, at 12:49 PM PST
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  3. Qoumidan Coolidge

    Harnessing the market is too much work. I want things handed to me on a silver platter!

    • #3
    • February 19, 2016, at 12:49 PM PST
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  4. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Only a corporation like a university can offer accreditation for learning. That official stamp is still worth more to employers than the knowledge it represents, generally speaking. But the potential for teaching salaries is probably higher for independent teachers.

    Organizations almost always include employees of various quality. A typical school has a few excellent teachers, a few terrible teachers, and a lot of teachers in between. The collective will likely average those values to charge students a flat rate per course. An individual teacher, on the hand, is free to charge his or her maximum value and can more easily adjust to consumer demands.

    Internet offers many advantages, including an unlimited source of potential customers and the ability to repeatedly capitalize on recordings rather than be forced to repeat a live performance.

    • #4
    • February 19, 2016, at 1:02 PM PST
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  5. OldDanRhody's speakeasy Member

    There are many short and clear instructional video presentations available for free in many subjects (e.g. mathematics from arithmetic through basic calculus, biology, chemistry, physics, etc. etc. etc.) online at https://www.khanacademy.org. What began as Sal Kahn developing videos to help his nephews with mathematics about ten years ago has grown to a 80-person team, covering many subjects in several languages.

    • #5
    • February 19, 2016, at 1:37 PM PST
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  6. I Walton Member

    The internet opens opportunities for the best teachers to make big bucks. The economies of scale are the same as for sports and recording stars but no TV or advertising bonuses. Only the educational bureaucracy and degree giving institutions stand in the way of changing the educational approach we’ve been using for over a century. This is why the educational establishment wants common core in any form they can get it.

    • #6
    • February 19, 2016, at 2:01 PM PST
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  7. A-Squared Inactive

    I would be happy to pay teachers more if we could fire them immediately for poor performance.

    Teachers want more money and complete job security. Sorry, you can’t have both. If you are lucky, you get to pick one. They chose job security. Live with that choice.

    • #7
    • February 19, 2016, at 2:17 PM PST
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  8. Jason Bedrick Inactive
    Jason Bedrick Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    A-Squared: I would be happy to pay teachers more if we could fire them immediately for poor performance.

    Milton Friedman said, “Poor teachers a grossly overpaid and good teachers are grossly underpaid.” That’s what happens when there’s no connection between pay and performance.

    • #8
    • February 19, 2016, at 2:27 PM PST
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  9. Jason Bedrick Inactive
    Jason Bedrick Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Aaron Miller: Only a corporation like a university can offer accreditation for learning. That official stamp is still worth more to employers than the knowledge it represents, generally speaking. But the potential for teaching salaries is probably higher for independent teachers.

    That’s true now, but the value of the BA/BS signal is declining. Employers are starting to look elsewhere. Many are now requiring graduate degrees, but particularly in the tech sector, they’re looking for other signals of an employee’s quality that are more relevant, accurate, and affordable. Andrew Coulson explored some possibilities a few years ago:

    “So what’s the solution? Alternative signaling options and better hiring practices would be a good start. Anyone who studies hard for the SAT, ACT, GRE, or the like, and scores well, can send the academic ability signal. But in the end, employers want more than academic ability. What they really want are subject area expertise, a good work ethic, an ability to work smoothly with a variety of people, and, for management, leadership ability. Any institution that develops good metrics for these attributes, and issues certifications accordingly, will provide an incredibly valuable service for employers. Students would then be free to study independently, occasionally paying for instruction where necessary, and then seek a certification signaling what they’ve learned. In the meantime, job candidates can create a portfolio of work on the Web showing what they know and can do (a “savoir faire”)—which would be more useful to employers than most resumes.”

    • #9
    • February 19, 2016, at 2:31 PM PST
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  10. A-Squared Inactive

    Aaron Miller: Only a corporation like a university can offer accreditation for learning. That official stamp is still worth more to employers than the knowledge it represents, generally speaking.

    I remember reading somewhere that intelligence tests given by employers used to be common, but they were deemed illegal or racist (but I repeat myself) and so they are no longer used (this seems to be the relevant case). As a result, degrees have replaced intelligence tests. Conservatives should seek to allow employers the freedom to test prospective employees as rigorously as they wish.

    That will both reduce the perceived value of the piece of paper we call a degree (*) and increase the demand for an actual education.

    (*) quick anecdote. When I lived in Kazakhstan, our cleaning lady was saving up money to buy her son a diploma. I don’t mean she was saving up money to send him to college, I mean she was saving up money to literally buy him a diploma. Apparently this practice was not uncommon in that part of the world.

    • #10
    • February 19, 2016, at 2:43 PM PST
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  11. Leigh Member

    Part of the problem, of course, is that we have absolutely no idea what the market value of a good teacher actually is, because we don’t have anything resembling a free market. It’s not just that school systems can’t fire or hire on merit — it’s that politics influences the evaluation.

    And even if it didn’t, they still struggle to find appropriate metrics by which to make that evaluation. And for what that’s worth I think that’s inevitable. Put me in the category that doesn’t think you can reduce teaching ability to any number, no matter how many factors you plug in.

    Just like a million other things not easily quantifiable in which we nonetheless have developed a fair idea of good, better, and best, because the market settles the debate.

    I don’t see us achieving anything like that in education at any point in the foreseeable future.

    • #11
    • February 19, 2016, at 5:25 PM PST
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  12. rico Inactive

    “The kid was a natural mathlete”

    • #12
    • February 19, 2016, at 8:04 PM PST
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  13. Brian Clendinen Member
    Brian Clendinen Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    The problem of why teachers can’t get paid more is they are always part of a bundel service called a school which are regionally based. That is if you had a market were a parent could actually pick the teacher they wanted to teach their kid’s and they bid on those spots, good teachers that knew how to market their skills would get paid good money. Were as a new teacher would get the bare minimum. However there would also be a selection bias in that the parents cared the most and students who were academically the best and probable get the lest value added out of an excellent teacher would get the best teachers. Someone who knows how to teach and educate themselves is going to learn a lot from a great teacher but the value add the teacher provides is going to be higher from a highly motivated but less smart individual in most cases.

    • #13
    • February 20, 2016, at 1:14 PM PST
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  14. Tedley Member

    The Japanese education system has many similarities with the South Korean system. There are quite a few teachers from the after school “juku” system (similar to hagwons) who are very well known. There is at least one online company marketing such classes, claiming that they have very interesting teachers for all their classes.
    The most well known of these teachers would be Hayashi-sensei. I don’t know anything about his income, but he’s extremely well versed in numerous matters. The Japanese television market has lots of quiz shows, and he ends up on several of them, as well as news programs and programs looking at medical topics. There’s even one program where he’s the feature, and famous people from any field pose questions to him to see if he’s ever heard of it or if he can explain it.
    I suspect that, if there’s anything like it in the U.S., it’s probably shunted off on one of the educational channels, and not very well known. As an adult, I enjoy watching him to see how much I remember from school.

    • #14
    • February 21, 2016, at 11:40 AM PST
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  15. Henry Castaigne Member

    Tedley: The Japanese education system has many similarities with the South Korean system. There are quite a few teachers from the after school “juku” system (similar to hagwons) who are very well known. There is at least one online company marketing such classes, claiming that they have very interesting teachers for all their classes.
    The most well known of these teachers would be Hayashi-sensei. I don’t know anything about his income, but he’s extremely well versed in numerous matters. The Japanese television market has lots of quiz shows, and he ends up on several of them, as well as news programs and programs looking at medical topics. There’s even one program where he’s the feature, and famous people from any field pose questions to him to see if he’s ever heard of it or if he can explain it.
    I suspect that, if there’s anything like it in the U.S., it’s probably shunted off on one of the educational channels, and not very well known. As an adult, I enjoy watching him to see how much I remember from school.

    That sounds really classy. Will the left hijack him and use him to insult religious people like they do with our public scientists?

    • #15
    • February 22, 2016, at 9:13 AM PST
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