Master's pay bump is waste of money

Paying teachers more for a master’s degree wastes money, conclude researchers Marguerite Roza and Raegen Miller in Separation of Degrees by the Center on Reinventing Public Education and the Center for American Progress.

On average, master’s degrees in education bear no relation to student achievement. Master’s degrees in math and science have been linked to improved student achievement in those subjects, but 90 percent of teachers’ master’s degrees are in education programs — a notoriously unfocused and process-dominated course of study.

In New York, 78 percent of teachers hold master’s degrees, costing an extra $416 per student or $1.12 billion a year.

Teacher pay should be aligned to their ability to boost student achievement, Roza and Miller conclude.

On City Journal, Sol Stern has “seven achievable reforms” in the New York City teachers’ union contract.

. . . (Mayor) Bloomberg’s six-year school-spending binge . . .  fattened the education budget from $12.7 billion in 2003 to $21 billion this year — probably the greatest increase by a school district in the history of American education. The UFT was complicit in the spending, since it reaped a 43 percent across-the-board pay raise for teachers, an identical hike for the union’s executives and managers, and a commensurate increase in union dues.

One suggestion is to tear up the “irrational salary schedule” and replace it with “a formula that plausibly links pay raises to real academic accomplishment and classroom skills.”

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  1. Roger Sweeny says:

    But what’s going to happen to all those ed school teachers? Don’t you know that, by definition, more schooling is better than less?

  2. > Master’s degrees in math and science have been linked to improved student achievement in those subjects

    Well, now, all we’ve shown is that it’s pretty silly to rate students’ improvement as nothing other than what they’ve done in math and science.

    Based on the result here we can infer that teachers with masters’ in other disciplines are teaching students more about those disciplines – education masters, for example, would be teaching students how to learn, an ability that won’t manifest until they move beyond the environment of rigidly controlled curriculum and testing – and the mere fact that this achievement isn’t measured doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

    It follows, therefore, that the money spent on masters is NOT wasted – not wasted, that is, unless you consider an education to consist entirely of math and science. Which would be pretty absurd.

  3. Hunter McDaniel says:

    There are two different questions, really
    1) Does an ed school masters provide any benefit in results? The conclusion of this study was NO, and I would agree.
    2) Does the $1.2B in teacher compensation that is arbitrarily linked to the “masters bump” provide any benefit in results? Despite the headline, the study really provides no insight on this question. Since most NY teachers are receiving this “bump”, it’s essentially base pay.

  4. I know teachers who have 60-plus grad credits of useless ed-school credits – beanbag, advanced beanbag and useless process-focused stuff included. It’s ridiculous to increase pay for that. I’m not at all convinced that elementary teachers need a master’s degree, unless it is specifically tailored to content for specific learning disabilities, reading/math problems etc. What all DO need is more content in phonics, writing, math, history, science and geography, but that should be done at the undergrad level. For middle school and above, a master’s should be in a specific subject and done in the College of Arts and Sciences, not in ed schools.

  5. “the mere fact that this achievement isn’t measured doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”

    If this was true, wouldn’t employers and college professors be noticing the improvement in students knowing how to learn?

    If numeracy and literacy is not achieved does it matter?

  6. Tracy W says:

    Based on the result here we can infer that teachers with masters’ in other disciplines are teaching students more about those disciplines – education masters, for example, would be teaching students how to learn,

    No you can’t. At least, you can’t if you’re going to be logical. At the most you can slightly up your Bayesian-type estimate of the likelihood that teachers with master degrees in other disciplines are teaching students more about those disciplines.

    an ability that won’t manifest until they move beyond the environment of rigidly controlled curriculum and testing – and the mere fact that this achievement isn’t measured doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

    On the other hand, the mere fact that this achievement isn’t measured doesn’t mean it does exist.

  7. Charles R. Williams says:

    A content masters is relevant to AP courses and IB level curricula. That’s what public school systems should be willing to pay for. Other than that, general cognitive skills in teachers are valuable to students but not educational credentials per se.

  8. I’m surprised that the percentage of teachers in New York with Master’s is so low, but I guess that merely reflects the number of relatively new teachers in the state. I say this because it’s a state requirement that teachers in New York get their Master’s within 5 years of beginning teaching in order to get their permanent certification.

    So why do districts in New York have a bump for getting a Master’s? Answer: unions. And for some districts, mostly Upstate, it permits a pay raise for teachers who otherwise wouldn’t get one because most Upstate districts don’t have longevity bumps.

  9. Generally, I’m with you all that student achievement should be a priority in revamping teacher pay, and so pay increases that aren’t tied to increased achievement or hard to fill job assignments are suspect; however, I think you may be ignoring a secondary benefit of advanced education degrees for school systems.

    These degrees make teachers feel invested enough in the field not to light out for greener pastures when the economy is going well. For instance, I completed one advanced education degree to qualify for certification and another for an additional pay increase. These do me absolutely no financial good unless I’m teaching in a public school.

    It would make sense to evaluate whether these degrees are an incentive for retention of the right teachers, but I’m not sure they are a complete waste from the school systems’ and the taxpayers’ point of view if they keep otherwise marketable people tied to public school teaching.

  10. I do have one other point: it always seems a little disingenuous when people suggest replacing the existing salary with one based on student achievement, as if measuring increases in student achievement in a meaningful way is particularly easy to do. The Tennessee Value Added stuff looks pretty good but requires a lot more testing than I think most states currently do and hasn’t even been used that well in Tennessee.

  11. tim-10-ber says:

    Please don’t use TVASS (value added) as a measure. Remember, Tennessee’s standards are the third worse in the country and the results show it!!! Just learned today the state experienced a drop (large?) in reading results…that is after spending how many millions on reading specialists???

    Some of the best teachers are NOT certified.

    Academic knowledge is critical. Why can the bachelor of education degree not be abolished — forget the fact the colleges lose money. Raise the admission standards, require a true academic major and a masters in education before entering the classroom. Do this and raise the teacher salary; put in some way to measure teachers’ performance annually and oust those that are not effective rather than give them tenure.

    This gets you subject knowledge and a slight older and hopefully little more mature teacher in the classroom.

  12. Rex: actually, it probably indicates an older teaching cadre that’s been grandfathered in. The tiered certification system is a fairly new development; I’m really not sure the unions have that much to do with it as much as the push for “highly qualified” — it is certainly not a New York thing.

    I think this article is largely true. Look at the uneven quality of the programs — I know some teachers who had to write a thesis for the M.Ed or MAT and some who cruised through Walden University’s online program during the summer.

    If I ruled the world, I’d say either the National Certification program if you want to deepen your practice or a traditional master’s in your subject area. Yes, it really is only necessary if you’re going to teach AP/Advanced classes, but everyone should be able to, even if they don’t.

  13. I’m no fan of the increased-pay-for-coursework system, but there are problems with tying teacher pay to student achievement. In schools with a stable population, it’s not a big issue. However, in many low-performing schools/districts there is a constant flow of kids in and out. If only half of the kids have been in the class all year, it’s a problem. The current policy of heterogeneous grouping makes it worse.

  14. Teachers don’t like to hear my solution, which is what private industry uses: let the boss decide. And then hold the boss accountable.

    “Oh no!”, shriek the teachers. “You can’t possibly mean that my pay raises will be decided by the principal or other administrators! Why, they might have favorites, or hate certain people!”

    Guess what? That’s what the rest of us professionals face. Daily. We don’t even have tenure to protect our job, let alone pay raises.

    Good administrators recognize good teaching when they see it. They also know that even if student improvement (NOT performance; we’re talking “value added” here)is not truly measurable over a short time span like 1-2 years, it’s noticeable over a longer time period. Good teachers know that, too.

    If the principal is really the instructional leader of the school, as the good ones are, then they should be held accountable for student improvement AND have the tools (firing, raises, etc.) to ensure that the teachers are doing what’s right for kids.

  15. Rex, that is what headmasters do in private schools. They are accountable to parents and/or a board of governors for the knowledge and performance of their teachers and all know it. Problem teachers are removed rapidly; the headmaster/teacher network provides a selection of possible replacements. I was told by such a headmaster that my son’s science teacer would have been fired within the first month at his school The public school had been documenting problems with knowledge, performance and abusive behavior toward students for years, but the politics of removing a URM female science teacher meant that firing her was next to impossible.

  16. Rex, the real problem with what you’re describing is that it’s really hard to make the principals accountable for the results taxpayers want to see. In most business and industry, it’s pretty easy (or easier anyway) to determine which are successful by looking at overall profit and the productivity of a given department in contributing to the overall success. With schools, there seems to be widely varying expectations about what they should be delivering.

    Honestly, I think if teachers knew what principals would be judged on, I think you’d have less resistance. But in a lot of communities, principals are the weakest link in the chain of student achievement and undermine teachers in the principals’ efforts to curry favor with a certain and usually pretty small segments of the community.

    You’re assuming a competency in leadership that is often largely absent. And my experience is that when it is present, the principals also have plenty of control over their staffing, if not control over compensation. They ask poor performers to leave and most will, even if they can’t technically be “fired” right then. They use the tools of professional development plans to either shape people up or run them off. They reward good teachers in the small ways that they can since they don’t have the purse strings.

    Now matter what, you have to be careful about making sure that principals are “accountable” for the right things. I’ve worked at a school where the success of the football program and delivering whatever the current coach says he needs is probably more important than any given teachers test results. This was actually probably a community expectation as well, but it was one that other taxpayers from other areas who were contributing to the state salaries of teachers at the school didn’t share. Should this principal be empowered to fire classroom teachers with good test results who sponsor clubs as extra-curriculars to employ more football coaches?

    Who is he or she accountable to and how? In terms of compensation, how does he or she request it from the state and the local government? Do they just have to hand over what he or she asks for? Is the principal merely in charge of ranking the teachers at his or her school, and each school in entitled to the same overall level of teacher compensation? We’d assume that each school had the same percentage of good teachers?

    School funding doesn’t work like private sector funding. There’s a whole lot that would have to be done to leave it all up to the principals. And I doubt that most principals would want to be that accountable.

  17. Seeing momof4’s note, I’ll add that public school funding doesn’t even work like private school funding, because private schools can do a cost benefit analysis of admitting any particular kid, and turn away anyone who isn’t “worth it” to admit.

    Even if we tied funding to particular students in public schools, unless schools could decline to enroll kids likely to cost more than they earn, it’s still going to be a different funding ball game.

  18. Hunter McDaniel says:

    Well, we used something close to Rex’s model at the charter school where I used to be a board member. The board made the final decisions on salary and retention, but the principal had the strongest input on those decisions. While we didn’t have a salary “schedule”, we were always well informed about the schedule used by the regular district schools, since they were an alternate employer who wouldn’t hesitate to pluck away our best teachers if we tried to lowball them.

    And the key acocuntability was this – nobody HAD to attend our charter school. Enrollment came directly from our reputation, and reputation came from parents who saw our performance with their own children.

    None of the synthetic measure which are always tried for school accountability – TVASS, certification, etc – come close to providing anything as effective as plain old competition. Why is that so hard for the public to understand?

  19. I guess I’d better hurry up and get a master’s and be grandfathered in before the geniuses in Sacramento read this.

    Guess I’m safe 🙂

  20. I am currently unemployed and have a master’s degree in education. I have never once in my life had difficulty with the mastery of content for the grades I teach. I have also taken graduate courses focused on content.
    The process knowledge I have is very helpful as I do my best to make sure every student in my classroom gains a level of mastery over the content I am teaching.
    I’ve interviewed three times at the same district this year. After the first interview the curriculum director called and told me she would have hired me but the position I had applied for had been cut. She then called four schools in the district and recommended me as a teacher. Two of the four schools called me for an interview. After each interview the respective principal called and said I did a great job in the interview, but they decided to go with someone else. I’ve heard the same from other schools I have interview with (usually less than half of the schools I apply to).
    During one interview I had more than one teacher comment out loud during my answer words to the effect of, “That is a great strategy/answer.”
    I would gladly give up my master’s bump to get a job and prove my capability in the classroom, but I don’t have the choice.

    Now if you want to change the pay structure of education there is a lot more to it than just saying “we’ll determine the best teachers and give them more money.” There is no quantitative formula for determining the best teacher.

  21. NDC,

    I’m well aware of the politics involved. Ultimately, the school board doesn’t like to be hasseled by parents and teachers, unless the individual school board members are strong and really act in the best interests of the kids. But, as with all politics, it’s a balancing act. You can’t ignore the parents, but you CAN educate them, or at least a majority of them, and then ignore the rest. You can try to educate the teachers, but teachers can be very stubborn and hard to reach. It’s a juggling act, and I don’t have a solution.

    Oh, by the way, principals should be (and usually are) accountable to the Superintendent sometimes via the A/S for C&I. But superintendents are limited as to who they can get rid of. Usually, poor administrators with tenure are shelved rather than fired. It sure sounds unfair to me as a taxpayer, but in many cases, it’s a lot cheaper than going through the firing process, which usually includes lawyers and lawsuits.

    Our latest high school principal was the best in 20 years, but a cadre of 30-40 teachers (out of about 140) absolutely hated that he was enforcing discipline in the school and not letting them do whatever they wanted to do in their classrooms. For example, he forbade kids eating & drinking in the classrooms. Heavens! At any rate, this cadre of teachers worked really hard on enough members of the school board so that the board denied the principal a contract renewal and tenure, even though the Superintendent, who was aware of all of this, recommended tenure/renewal and told the board members what was going on. Didn’t matter. But this principal lasted for 5 years, which is a new record for the district, at least within the last 20 years. It’s a really tough district what with all the community activists and committees and touchy feely feel good attitudes, a lot of which (but not all) is at the expense of just getting the job done.

  22. Brendan: Our district won’t look at a candidate WITHOUT a master’s — preferably in the content area.

  23. Hunter, how did your charter get its funds to pay teachers and when in the year did it get them?

    If you got per-pupil funding per student, were all students funded equally? Could you reject students?

    If you started the year and hired teachers based on those enrollment figures and you lost or gained students during the year, how quickly were you able to act to add or reduce teachers?

    I’m really not trying to throw up road blocks. I’m pretty open to charters, vouchers, and competition as long as there’s minimal student achievement standards for the schools receiving funding, but I can’t quite figure out how you’d do it large scale to serve the majority of public school students. (Honestly, I’m not even sure I’ve seen it done too frequently at the high school level period.)

    I also can’t really think of too many comparable models of something that will work like school choice would. Maybe food stamps if we gave them to everyone of a certain age? We collect other taxpayers money to dole it out to individuals to make individual choices and we’d expect that to drive up the quality of food, even if prices were fixed? I can see how it would increase the number of people happy with what they were eating compared to serving everyone oatmeal, but I’m not sure that’s the same as increasing quality.

    I understand why parents and (even some teachers) would like school choice, but how does it really work money-wise from the institutional side and what’s in it for the rest of the taxpayers?

  24. Rex, it’s just really hard to make people accountable when the whole system is funded by other people’s money.

    The politics are a big factor, but public funding is another.

  25. Rex, do you have elected superintendents or is he/she appointed by an elected board? Are you in a big union state where school board elections are affected by union behavior?

    We have an elected board who appoints the superintendent and union politics have zero influence in local elections. Principals don’t have tenure as far as I know but are rarely fired. I’m not sure anyone is actually accountable.

  26. Hunter McDaniel says:

    To answer your questions
    1) Funding for our charter school was on a per-pupil basis, same amount for every child.
    2) We admitted students by lottery. Which meant that a lot of students were rejected, but not from any criteria that we set.
    3) Our funded-pupil count was based on the number of students on a special “count day” in early October. That’s just the way public school funding works in Colorado. I think there are provisions in the law for handling extraordinary enrollment changes during a year, but those never applied to us.
    4) If we lost students during the year, we usually replaced them with the next child on the (lottery-driven) waiting list.

    As to your question of “when in the year did you get your funds”, there is no clear answer. The local school district received our funding from the state and then included us as a “location code” within their budget. Our budget was something like an annual appropriation (rather than monthly), subject to the pupil count adjustment in October. The district did not have any system for directly tracking whether our expenses were running ahead of or behind the budget, but we sure as hell did.

    As for how you replicate this kind of school choice, I don’t think it has to be that hard. In Colorado and many other states it is already the case that the districts are funded on a per-pupil basis. So it’s mostly a matter of lowering the barriers to charter school formation, letting charters organize themselves into their own districts, etc. Under such a system I believe you would soon see “brands” develop – the Kipp District competing with Core Knowledge District, the Waldorf District, and the Montessori District.

    The biggest barrier for most charter schools is finding a facility. Our charter school was extremely fortunate that a narrow political opening resulted in our getting to use an existing district facility.

  27. Were your teachers still in the typical state system for teacher retirement and benefits, even though they were on a different system for pay, I’m assuming.

    How did you get out from under the state salary pay scale or doesn’t Colorado do it that way? Did the freedom in compensation just come in rewards above the state base pay?

    I don’t think my district has seen a charter petition come forward, but I’ve read about one of the nearby district actively work to keep a charter from opening, and I’m surprised they get away with it.

  28. I also can’t understand why charters can’t compel districts to give them existing space based on the number of children enrolled. After all, these are district kids being educated by funds from the district.

  29. Hunter McDaniel says:

    1) Yes, our teachers were still part of the state retirement system (called PERA). Much like Social Security, it has an employee contribution which the teachers paid and an employer contribution which we paid.
    2) Our teachers participated in the same health/dental plans as other district teachers. There was no way we could have ever negotiated a group rate on our own that was competitive with that.
    3) Colorado does not have a state salary schedule for teachers. Our local district has a schedule which they negotiated with the teachers’ union, but our charter application specifically waived that policy. A large portion of any charter application in Colorado consists of identifying which district policies will be waived, and which will not.
    4) “After all, these are district kids being educated by funds from the district.” I couldn’t say it better myself. Problem is, teachers in under-utilized facilities “grow into” to all the extra space just like my wife and I have as empty-nesters. And what do you do if you need 50K square feet for your charter school but there is only 10K free in each of 5 buildings? My solution would be for school buildings to be owned by a separate entity and then “rented”, either to district schools or charter schools. In my dreams…

  30. Charter choice ought to be more attractive to teachers than it is, but it doesn’t offer as much potential to shed educational costs as other systems of choice because it retains so many of the teaching benefits.

    Are the unions big in your district? Because if they aren’t, you theoretically could muster the political influence to elect a board that approached instructional space as a per pupil award like the number of teachers per school. A particular school would only get access to the number of classrooms that it could fill at that ratio with no choice to grow into the extra space.

    And as weird as it would be, if you had to start with different charter grades at different schools, you could do it.

  31. NDC,

    Elected board which appoints the superintendent. Unions are almost revered by a majority of the folks here, but “the union” plays a role as one stakeholder amongst many. (Parents, teachers, other administrators, black organizations, community organizations, etc. are the primary stakeholders. I’m sure I missed some–and they are ALL involved in every hiring of every administrator to one degree or another.) In board elections, the union usually endorses certain candidates, which carries a fair amount of weight, but this district is not captive to the teachers the way a neighboring district is. (The teachers didn’t like a superintendent and over a 3 year period, got enough board members elected to fire the superintendent. Two of the board members promptly resigned, because they had achieved what they wanted.)

    Believe me, our superintendent and board are very aware that the money comes from the taxpayers, and they are very concientious. Only 28% comes from state and feds; the remainder is from local property taxes. The super & board are consequently VERY VERY aware of where the money comes from. And the budget gets voted on each year by the residents of the district.

    The union has a large role in the negotations for the teacher contract, and the board is usually loath to give them less than a 3.0-3.5% increase each year. This year they got a short-term (I think for one year at which time the increase will be negotiated again) increase of 2%.

  32. Adminstrators and politics are the main reason the schools are so wasteful and corrupt. My mother-in-law who taught at a middle school in the ghetto, said she had a principal for a few years whom the teachers suspected of child abuse, and who suddenly was moved to a district office job. Turns out he was moved from one school to another as soon as parents complained, and now he has an office job at school district headquarters! That’s how hard it is to fire bad employees in schools. Way too much law suit abuse and politics! That is just the tip of the iceberg in how lawyers and politician have ruined our schools and are currently ruining our society. Sorry to any lawyers who are reading this. I have lawyer friends and I just keep my opinions to myself, and I like them, but after some of their stories, I don’t always respect them as much as the garbage men who come down the street.

    San Antonio citizen

  33. I always respect the garbage men. Or I clean up the garbage from my driveway. Easier to smile and say hi.

    Lightly seasoned, you made a comment about breezing through Walden’s online course. I would like to become a teacher. My dad is a teacher, my mom works for a school district, and I want to impact learning for kids. However, already having a degree and having been out of college for 10 years, my time is very limited. In having just started looking into what I would need to do to teach, I have looked at a few online institutions, and the BS I already have (and I do have a lot of BS) is sufficient for them, and I would begin work on my Master’s immediately. I obviously do not want to pay and do work that will not be recognized by schools or states. I am curious what your (and everyone else’s) opinion is about online education. Thanks