"Halt Urged for Paying Teachers for Earning Master’s Degrees" is the headline in a recent Education Week. Master’s degrees do not correlate with higher student performance, according to research conducted for the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE). And in this time of financial stress, Kansas is paying $66 million more for a masters degree salary “bump” that does nothing to improve student scores. It costs the whole United States $8.6 billion The report "Separation of Degrees: State-by-State Analysis of Teacher Compensation for Master’s Degrees" can be accessed at http://www.crpe.org.
Currently teacher salary scales in Kansas move up in pay steps by years of teaching experience, (often $200 to $500 per year) and across by added course work (with similar boosts in pay). According to the CRPE study, the "average salary bump for a master’s degree" in Kansas is $4,346.
This comes in the midst of a nationwide debate on teacher pay. Politicians point out that "good" and "bad" teachers are paid the same under the present system. Thus even President Obama has advocated "performance pay" based on improving student test scores.
Normally Kansas can ignore fads in California or Washington, DC. But Kansas is pursuing a portion of the billions of federal dollars being made available to states in the "Race to the Top" funding. At their September 8, 2009 Kansas State Board of Education meeting, board members heard that pay-for-performance will have to be incorporated in some way into the Kansas application. Local Kansas school boards will likely have to adopt some version of “compensation alternative,” perhaps a 3-tier system of "exemplary," "proficient," and "under-par" teachers.
The CRPE report adds up the unnecessary cost of higher degrees. They cite the case of Nebraska, where a master’s degree gets a teacher a $9,484 salary "bump," (over twice the bump for Kansas teachers). Nebraska spends $279 per pupil "...in a manner that is not even suspected of promoting higher levels of student achievement."
The CRPE conclusion is terribly wrong. Consider doctors and nurses and dentists who go back for workshops in handling new equipment and medical technology and record-keeping. Does that automatically translate into higher survivor rates and levels of health? We know from the current flu epidemic, salmonella outbreaks, and sporadic natural disasters that measurements of health outcomes are more dependent on the patient than on these professionals. The same is true for teaching and students. Linking student performance to advanced training is unsound, because students are not uniform raw material. We would be terribly unwise to end in-service training for medical professionals simply because we could not get a proportionate “bump” in medical outcomes.
Also, CRPE should never have made a sweeping conclusion to dump extra pay for all masters degrees because their own data have an important exception: "On average, master’s degrees in education bear no relation to student achievement. Masters degrees in math and science have been linked to improved student achievement in those subjects...." They are ready to throw the math-science baby out with the education bathwater, because "...90 percent of teachers’ masters degrees are in education programs."
In Kansas, half of biology teachers hold a masters degree, and surveys show that they prefer professional development courses in science over education by 2-to-1. If future Kansas school children are to have a solid education in modern science, we must send our teachers back for science updating, and we should continue to pay for it.