Date: 
Monday, July 20, 2009

Pay bump for teachers with master's degrees could be put to better use

Seattle, WA - In this recessionary climate of depressed revenues and budget cuts for education, school districts across the U.S. would be foolhardy not to rethink paying teachers for master's degrees, according to a new report out today.

On average, master's degrees in education bear no relation to student achievement, say education researchers Marguerite Roza and Raegen Miller in their short paper, "Separation of Degrees: State-By-State Analysis of Teacher Compensation for Master's Degrees."

The brief was produced jointly by the Center on Reinventing Public Education and the Center for American Progress.

During this time of fiscal stringency, it should raise eyebrows when a state automatically allocates such large sums of the average per-pupil expenditure in a manner that is not even suspected of promoting higher levels of student achievement, say the authors.

In hard dollars, this means New York state spends an extra $416 per student (for a total of $1.121 billion a year) just because 78 percent of its teachers hold master's degrees. In Washington state, the analogous numbers are $319 per pupil (or $330 million a year total) for the 56 percent of its teachers with a master's. These expenditures, respectively, represent 2.78 percent and 3.30 percent of the total federal, state, and local money devoted to education in each state.

Roza and Miller chart these numbers for each state and suggest that the money now committed to the master's bump in pay could be better spent, writing that: Teaching candidates with salient and meaningful master's degrees should be given preferential attention when competing for jobs, all else being equal. A master's degree in engineering, for example, should be construed as evidence that a candidate possesses a deep understanding of a subject matter that is relevant to teaching mathematics or science.

The authors acknowledge that changing long-established pay practices and contractual schedules will not be easy. But they argue that from a strategic point of view, this master's bump in pay makes little sense because these monies could be channeled into teacher compensation in ways that lead to improved student performance.

Seeing the issue in the context of how a financial crisis can inspire education reform focused on benefiting students, Roza and Miller conclude:

"In the fiscal climate ahead, school systems serious about improving results for students will have no choice but to reconsider their long-automated ways of spending money, uncover how much money is at stake, and compare current ways of spending to alternative ones with greater potential to benefit students."

"Separation of Degrees: State-By-State Analysis of Teacher Compensation for Master's Degrees" is the fourth Rapid Response brief in the SCHOOLS IN CRISIS: MAKING ENDS MEET series, designed to bring relevant fiscal analyses to policymakers amidst the current economic crisis.