Another bite at paying teacher’s differently

In one of my posts on how Utah and other states could pursue “exceptional” education in an era of tight budgets, I expressed skepticism about paying teachers more simply for earning a masters degrees in education. (Let me just note that I would not advocate changing this rule retroactively and penalizing teachers who made this investment in good faith. Let me also note that the “masters bump” is smaller in Utah than in most states.)

A recently-published supports this skepticism, and provides some alternative suggestions for changing teacher pay. Here’s the summary from the Fordham Institute’s Education Gadfly:

Here’s a jarring statistic from analysts Raegen Miller and Marguerite Roza: In 2007-08, states spent $14.8 billion on pay bumps for teachers with master’s degrees, which—timeandagain—have proven to be entirely unrelated to instructional effectiveness. In perspective, this equates to $217 per pupil—and marks a 72 percent increase since 2003-04, the last time Miller and Roza crunched these numbers. This “master’s bump” affects states differently: Six states (all with powerful teacher unions, including Illinois, New York, and Ohio) allocate $400-plus per-pupil as a reward for this additional credential (in cost-adjusted dollars). Eight (predominantly right-to-work states like Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah) spend under $100. Interestingly, the size of a master’s bump had no statistical relationship with the percentage of teachers acquiring such degrees. Miller and Roza recommend a two-pronged approach to developing a sleeker, more productive teacher-salary structure. First, scrap policies that automatically confer extra pay for master’s degrees (or that require advanced degrees for full licensure). Second, push master’s programs to compete on merit: Use teacher-assessment data to rate their effectiveness and encourage graduate programs centered on performance assessments (like the Relay Graduate School of Education and the Urban Teacher Center) rather than seat-time requirements. Good ideas both—and even more so when budgets are tight.

Some other interesting points from the report itself (you can find the link at the Education Gadfly site):

“The more nuanced evidence suggests that master’s degrees in math and science do confer an instructional advantage on teachers of those subjects, yet
approximately 90 percent of the master’s degrees held by teachers come from education
programs that tend to be unrelated to or unconcerned with instructional efficacy.


“The first of the traditional drivers of teacher pay is longevity or time on the job. This tradition makes sense insofar as novice teachers face a steep learning curve and early-career teachers rising to the challenge should enjoy pay increases recognizing their success just as do their counterparts in other professions. But teachers’ performance, as measured
by value-added estimates of their impact on student achievement, tends to flatten out after 6 to 10 years.  The tradition of experience-based salary increases for veteran teachers is, therefore, indifferent to student achievement.



  1. duckmonkeyman

    So education of educators is not important in education? Are you saying that continuing education for teachers is unimportant? Would you extend this to saying a PhD is unnecessary to teach most college courses? To doctors really need the MD? Most of these “studies” should be fully peer reviewed before latching onto as science. Unless of course this is more of the anti-teacher “reform” meant to demean and deprofessionalize teachers.

  2. Jeffery Hosten

    Actually, I don’t think that’s the point of the research. The research says that earning a masters’ degree doesn’t improve your ability to teach. As such, we shouldn’t be paying people to get masters’ degrees.

    I don’t see how this is a hard thing to understand.

    And to be specific, you ask if you need a PhD to teach most college courses. The answer is no. The PhD is primarily for research–most community college professors, and many adjunct professors do a fine job teaching without a PhD. Similarly, with MDs, we have been giving more and more responsibility to nurses and nurse practitioners, which has saved a lot of money without declining quality. I don’t see a problem with this.

    If you run an apple sauce factory, you should pay workers based on how many cans of apple sauce they produce. You shouldn’t pay them based on how long they’ve worked there, or how much “effort” they put in, or how strained their face is as they make apple sauce. You shouldn’t pay them for a degree in apple science, or for how many articles they’ve published in the “Apple Sauce Quarterly Journal.” You pay them for how much they help the company–how much they contribute to the bottom line. Sadly, in our schools, we are willing to pay people for a million reasons that are not the bottom line: our kids.

  3. Pezastic

    Teachers shouldn’t get a Masters bump? That’s a joke, right? Why are we paying one of the most important professions for our future so little now? That’s what this should be about.

    • Mary McConnell

      Well, this post hit a nerve. To repeat – I don’t think that Utah or any other state should go back on promised pay increases to people who have already earned, or are in the process of earning, a masters degree in education. Those teachers invested in these degrees in good faith.

      And as I’ve said more than once, I favor further training for teachers. I just wonder whether a master’s in education is really the best way to improve teaching skills and student outcomes. The evidence suggests not. At the very least, why not provide “bumps” for a wider variety of advanced training that’s clearly related to the individual teacher’s subject, grade level, career goals, etc.? Education masters degree courses – and many education courses at all levels – strike me as too generic to be especially useful, and often insufficiently rigorous as well.

      My broader point is that the entire teacher pay system is too rigid and automatic. A clearer link between training and performance would, in my view, actually strengthen the case for higher teacher pay (which I’ve also advocated.)

    • Jeffery Hosten

      But @Pezastic, what if all that money that is paid towards those who earn masters’ degrees were instead converted into base pay for teachers? We’re not talking about decreasing teacher pay, just changing it. Masters’ degrees aren’t very effective, so why not pay all teacher a little more? You could also pay people bonuses for staying for a third and fifth year (two years where we lose many teachers).

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