Saturday, August 3, 2013

The $4 Million a Year Freelance Teacher

According to an intriguing feature story in today's Wall Street Journal:

[Cram school teacher/tutor] 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.

The quest for effective teachers - and appropriate teacher compensation - is at the heart of education reform in the United States. People are just as likely to complain teachers are grossly underpaid as they are to question the "lavish" benefits that teachers receive, especially in terms of pensions. Having taught English in Southeast Asia for many years, I am familiar with the "cram school" - or hagwon - economy in which teachers can earn high salaries in preparing students for high school and college entrance exams.

Of course, that's nothing like the business model Kim Ki-hoon and the hagwon Megastudy have created. Kim has developed a highly respected reputation for creating effective study videos that hundreds of thousands of students access for roughly $4 and hour. He has parlayed that into a publishing industry as well, and he is earning millions of dollars a year - the type of money reserved for rock stars and athletes in the United States. The hagwon industry has received plenty of press in the past, and it's not news that teachers can earn top salaries, though it's primarily an after-effect of Korea's and Southeast Asia's incredibly high stakes standardized testing.

However, the WSJ focus asks whether the "freelance teacher" model common in Asian countries could be adapted to the United States to improve schools. Obviously, the argument is that the better teachers with the better videos earn more money. This "free market" approach to teacher pay is not a surprising focus from the conservative Journal. However, the application of such models in America begs the question of equality in systems and education focus in Asia and the United States. Such a high stakes emphasis on prepping for tests is less significant here.  To be sure, test-prep companies like Kaplan and Barrons make a tidy profit preparing kids for SAT, ACT, etc. However, the teachers for these programs are quite replaceable, not earning rock star reputations like Kim Ki-hoon. And, let's not forget the free access to many videos on sites such as KhanAcademy.com

Of course, there is a part of the "freelance teacher" concept that I believe can and should be cultivated in the United States. If the focus of education is on accumulation of knowledge and mastery of skills, rather than a naive emphasis on seat time, grade levels, and Carnegie units, then much could be made of a private enterprise industry where teachers impart skills in knowledge in the most accessible and effective formats. Specifically, this could be considered an a la carte education system in which students and parents access what they want and need. This could be appealing to many in the homeschooling and unschooling movements. It may not be a bad thing for students to access school on a hourly or unit basis, rather than a year. For example, I know of parents who would willingly homeschool their children in all but a few areas. And there's probably nothing wrong with that.

So, I don't know about a system of hagwon with the best teachers earning millions, but the United States could certainly adapt a more freelance approach to education.


1 comment:

HIMT said...

Good post! I am also going to write a blog post about this... thanks 

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