Meaningless masters

Teachers earn more money if they complete a master’s degree, yet there’s no evidence they teach any better. Should the stipend be spent elsewhere, asks the Dallas Morning News.

“If we pay for credentials, teachers have an incentive to seek and schools have an incentive to provide easy credentials,” said Arthur Levine, a researcher who once headed Columbia University’s Teachers College. “If, on the other hand, we only pay for performance, teachers have an incentive to seek and schools have an incentive to provide excellent training.”

. . . A roundup published in 2003 by The Economic Journal, a publication of the international Royal Economic Society, unearthed 170 relevant studies. Of those, 15 concluded that master’s programs helped teachers, nine found they hurt them, and 146 found no effect.

In a very large study, Texas looked for correlations between student performance and teachers with master’s degrees.

“They’re worthless. Case closed. Next question,” said Eric Hanushek, a senior project researcher who also works at Stanford University.

A majority of U.S. teachers now hold a master’s degree and they’re not eager to change the system.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. In some states, teachers are required to get their masters within a certain amount of time or lose certification with no reimbursement for the money they put into those credits.
    For that reason alone, a raise, I think, is something that should be considered.

    Although, then it begs the question, is a master’s neccesary at all?

    I have yet to form an opinion on this. I’m currently working on my masters, but it’s in educational leadership and administration… however, in ym role in a charter school, I do find it helpful in understanding better what my role is and what I do. I will say that I do believe it makes me a stronger leader in my school and, therefore, a bigger advocate and a strong, more knowledgeable, teacher for my students.

  2. charles R. Williams says:

    What else is new? Teacher compensation is totally disconnected from reality and the only thing that will change this is real competition in the education industry from a comprehensive voucher system.

  3. Yep, I agree. Charles Williams nails it on the head.

    I have a master’s and the whole thing was just a pain.

    The voucher system makes sense.

  4. wayne martin says:

    > In a very large study, Texas looked for correlations
    > between student performance and teachers with master’s
    > degrees. “They’re worthless. Case closed. Next question,”
    > said Eric Hanushek, a senior project researcher
    > who also works at Stanford University.

    On the other hand, there is extremely high correlation between student performance and parent education.

  5. mike curtis says:

    To get a master’s degree in any thing related to education, not necessarily connected to the subject one teaches, a post-grad needs only to write a check and write a thesis explaining why one agrees or disagrees with whatever. As a public school teacher, pursuit of a masters in mathematics does not make one a better algebra teacher; it merely gives one a higher payscale. The manipulators of educational administration know they can gather more gold with a payscale based on potential rather than performance. Potential is a word that means one hasn’t done anything noteworthy yet. Where else can you earn more based on something you haven’t done than the public education system. Pay for performance makes sense. People with master’s degrees don’t teach better, they just spend more time on the internet.

  6. My husband’s a teacher in New York and when he graduated he was given provisional certification. In order to get his permanent certification (and be eligible for tenure at his job) he needed to get a Masters degree (in Education, not in any other subject area) within 5 years of his initial bachelor’s degree. If he doesn’t he will lose his certification. I’m sure New York is not the only state to do this, which would explain the high rates of Masters degrees.

  7. High school and lower grade teachers with masters degrees is yet another symptom of a system that looks only at inputs, and doesn’t care about results.

    My father got a pretty good public education even though grades 1-8 were a two-room school taught by teachers with a high school diploma plus just six months in a college education program. Of course, in those days students didn’t pass a grade until they knew and could pass tests in everything taught in it, high school students were more likely to be motivated (Dad had to live with an uncle in town to be able to attend high school), and a high school diploma was good evidence of literacy and numeracy, although it was very unlikely that calculus was included.

    It’s good for a teacher to know a little more of the subject than she will be teaching, but calculus does not teach you what you need to know to teach 3rd grade arithmetic, or IMO anything below algebra, nor is master’s level mathematics going to be any help in teaching algebra and the lower levels of calculus. I cannot see that it’s necessary to get a master’s degree to teach any high school subject, let alone the lower grades.

  8. mike curtis wrote:

    it merely gives one a higher payscale

    There has to be some rationale behind the pay scale and seniority is the least objectionable from the union’s point of view. The union bargaining committee can sell seniority as a basis for higher pay just as they can sell advanced degrees. The fact that the degrees don’t make the teachers better teachers is irrelevant.

  9. What a shock; bureaucrats opt for credentials over experience and performance. ‘She has a master’s degree’ over ‘she’s an experienced and effective teacher’. Mike Curtis indeed nails it; as long as there is a market for credentials, schools will sell them to anyone who can spare the time and whose check doesn’t bounce.

  10. wayne martin says:

    >> The fact that the degrees don’t make the teachers better teachers
    >> is irrelevant.

    Irrelevant to the Union perhaps, but it’s very relevant to the taxpayers, parents and students. This becomes even more relevant with the advent of concepts such as Class Size Reduction (CSR), where more teachers, more capital investment and higher salaries combine to triple-whammy the costs of providing public education. As the article points out, many of these Union-driven salary augmentations increase the cost of public education by $77B yearly. This is not an irrelevant amount of money.

  11. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Find out what does work and pay for that.
    Do you suppose there is a correlation between the weight of the teacher and the average GPA advancement of her/his students?
    Worthy of a paper or so.

  12. Did I miss it, or was the subject of the master’s degree not taken into account?

  13. Wayne Martin wrote:

    Irrelevant to the Union perhaps, but it’s very relevant to the taxpayers, parents and students.

    Oh, I understand that Wayne. But taxpayers, parents and students don’t get much of a say in these things. Taxpayers elect the school board, which is where taxpayer “say” ends, largely, and parents and kids have no say in the value assigned to Masters degrees at all.

    And that’s as it should be if you’ve got a representative form of government. “The” government, in this case the school board, doesn’t represent you alone no matter how valid your concerns. It represents every party with political influence among which are the teacher’s unions.

    The public gets to make our will felt once every year or two, unless we want to show up at a school board meeting and even then you’re not assured of getting your way, whereas the teachers in the teacher’s union are reminded every day of the importance of school board politics.

    What fundamental change would you make to the system that’s A) politically feasible and B) get you the results you want?

  14. Indigo Warrior says:

    This sounds like overskilling.

  15. Well yeah, there’s that.

  16. wayne martin says:

    > But taxpayers, parents and students don’t get much of a
    > say in these things. Taxpayers elect the school board, which is
    > where taxpayer “say” ends, largely, and parents and kids have
    > no say in the value assigned to Masters degrees at all.

    While this may be historically true, the very nature of a “representative” (or local control) is sufficiently open-ended to allow parents to demand that proof-of-performance be demonstrated before making demands for these degrees of the teaching staff.

    > And that’s as it should be if you’ve got a representative form of
    > government. “The” government, in this case the school board,
    > doesn’t represent you alone no matter how valid your concerns.
    > It represents every party with political influence among which
    > are the teacher’s unions.

    Representative government means that “representatives” of the voters make decisions, rather than some other set of “deciders”. Good governance demands that the representatives consider the good of all. Special interests, such as teachers’ unions, don’t get direct participation in the election of the “deciders”. Unfortunately, with the introduction of “big money” into the system, special interests, like the Unions, seem to have acquired far more control than is good for the system as a whole.

    > The public gets to make our will felt once every year or two,
    > unless we want to show up at a school board meeting and even
    > then you’re not assured of getting your way,

    This is true. However, if the issue is important enough, engaged parents and taxpayers will either prevail, recall the School Board, or vote them out at the next election.

    > What fundamental change would you make to the system that’s
    > A) politically feasible and B) get you the results you want?

    School systems are a complicated mix of state law, state and local politics, and local belief in the religion of education. Not certain how this question relates directly to the “Meaningless Masters” question, as it is so overly broad. There is every reason to believe that the current system would work to deal with this issue if there were sufficient engagement on the part of parents and property owners to force the schools to justify their expenses. I agree it is a difficult problem to get people engaged who think that they don’t have a direct connection to the schools, or whose only concern is “getting my kid into Harvard”. However, nothing is impossible, if people will simply recognize that the system is failing and that no amount of money will solve the problem.

  17. Wayne Martin wrote:

    While this may be historically true, the very nature of a “representative” (or local control) is sufficiently open-ended to allow parents to demand that proof-of-performance be demonstrated before making demands for these degrees of the teaching staff.

    Come on Wayne, how many times has this happened in the wild and woolly world of public education? In theory you’re absolutely correct but in reality how many examples of this sort of demand being met have occurred?

    Good governance demands that the representatives consider the good of all.

    No Wayne, it has to be representative, not good and it is representative. Not just of our admirable traits but also those that are more regrettable.

    Given the material we have to work with – you and me – how would you structure a system that inherently produces good governance? I don’t think it’s possible and that the best you can hope for is to get it right enough enough of the time.

    As for “the good of all”, in a system built on compromise, as any representative form necessarily is, that is most assuredly not true. Among the losers there has to be some hope of redress and among the winners there has to be an occasional or eventual comeuppance but at any given instant there are going to be people who’ve been wronged.

    “The good of all” ought to come with “on average over a long enough period of time” tacked onto the end.

    Special interests, such as teachers’ unions, don’t get direct participation in the election of the “deciders”.

    The key word being “direct”. You know as well as I do that plenty of school boards have unionized teachers serving. It hardly seems worth belaboring them for voting the interests of their constituency since that’s the point of a representative.

    Unfortunately, with the introduction of “big money” into the system, special interests, like the Unions, seem to have acquired far more control than is good for the system as a whole.

    Sounds like you’re ready to sign on for campaign finance reform in school board elections:-)

    And if all that were required were plenty of money then Bill Gates would buy himself Congress and the Presidency. Yes, money is important and no, money isn’t determinative. Plenty of rich guys have found that out.

    if the issue is important enough, engaged parents and taxpayers will either prevail, recall the School Board, or vote them out at the next election.

    They won’t prevail, at least not until the recall is successful, if the school board tells engaged parents and taxpayers to get stuffed. And if you’ve got to wait around for a year or two to get a shot at the office how important does the issue have to be? How many important issues don’t quite rise to that level of importance?

    Not certain how this question relates directly to the “Meaningless Masters” question, as it is so overly broad.

    “Meaningless Masters” are very meaningful when it comes to paychecks. The union needs some pretext upon which to build a graduated salary scale. Since competence isn’t one of the allowable metrics, seniority or earning an advanced degree, are used. That salary scale, based on largely superfluous considerations, is proposed by the union and accepted by the school board. Special interests, in this case the teacher’s unions, exert too much influence on the system sayeth you.

    What feasible changes would you make to the system so as to reduce that undue influence?

    Oh, and no tampering with human nature. Your system can’t depend on voters that are more active and parents that are more engaged then the extant crop.

  18. wayne martin says:

    > In theory you’re absolutely correct but in reality how many
    > examples of this sort of demand being met have occurred?

    Given the size of the public education sector, this question would be difficult to answer accurately. There are some notable individual cases, however. For instance, in the mid-90s “new math” became an issue in my school district (upscale, Silicon Valley, pretentious). Scores were dipping, and education-savvy parents wanted to know why. The School District tried to shine them on, but a very effective resistance to District indifference eventually overcame the District’s “new math” directions. These anti-“new math” resistances have occurred in other districts too. A controversial decision by the School Board in my District has recently drawn a lot of negative public scrutiny and input. There’s every reason to believe that the public’s input will be taken seriously by the School Board, even though they might not openly admit it.

    Googling “school board” and “recall” results in a recall petition for a Seattle school board being filed today. A goodly number of recall attempts show up in the search results from across the country.

    > “The good of all” ought to come with “on average over a long
    > enough period of time” tacked onto the end.

    Ok ..

    > Sounds like you’re ready to sign on for campaign finance
    > reform in school board elections:-)

    In a big way. In my school district, the money flows from the real estate and development sources. Getting them out of the way would change things a lot, I suspect.

    > And if all that were required were plenty of money then
    > Bill Gates would buy himself Congress and the Presidency

    Why would he do that? Gates is far too smart to want those kinds of headaches.

    > The union needs some pretext upon which to build a graduated
    > salary scale. Since competence isn’t one of the allowable metrics,
    > seniority or earning an advanced degree, are used.

    Well, with/without the “Meaningless Masters”, some sort of a compensation system must exist. If the Masters weren’t there, then the “step and ladder” dollar amounts would be higher. It’s difficult to believe that the Unions would miss a trick at getting the costs higher. The question of the thread goes unanswered, however.

    I’ve sent this article to my school board, which is deeply in the pocket of the Teachers’ Union, and the Real Estate interests. I intend to make an issue of it next time there is a school board election.

    > That salary scale, based on largely superfluous considerations, is
    > proposed by the union and accepted by the school board.

    Agreed.

    > What feasible changes would you make to the system so as to
    > reduce that undue influence?

    Attempts to reduce the amount of money non-voters can give to any election have not survived judicial review. However, better monitoring of sources of money, such as instantaneous posting of contributions on WEB-sites dedicated to tracking campaign funding sources.

    One change I would like to see is full disclosure of all contacts of between elected and people who are contributors. There are ways to do this that might seem invasive, but getting “sunlight” on these behind-the-scenes relationships is long overdue.

    Another change would involve a requirement for solid proof before any significant change in spending is allowed. As we’ve seen with the “Meaningless Masters” and Class Size Reduction, vast sums of money have been spent with no results. Rather than forcing changes in educational spending that result in no demonstrable performance results, hard evidence would have to be on the table to justify any systemic spending increases.

    > Oh, and no tampering with human nature. Your system
    > can’t depend on voters that are more active and parents
    > that are more engaged then the extant crop.

    Why not? If the result of public education is not to produce incrementally better educated children, that turn into incrementally better educated adults, then what is the point of public education?