As I said at This Week in Ed, I seriously doubt paying teachers for MAs is a good use of money:
The most common and intuitive defense of the master’s degree is probably that we should pay for it because we should value the professional qualifications of our teachers. Why shouldn’t we reward teachers who have invested in their own professional development?
The problem with that line of thinking is two-fold. First, it begs the question at hand: namely, does a master’s degree really contribute to a teacher’s professional development? The research suggests very strongly that it does not, at least for most intents and purposes.
Second, to the extent that we are worried about respecting teachers as professionals, we should probably be reluctant to insist that teachers jump through an apparently-meaningless hoop to earn an extra carrot.
I’m never entirely sure what it means to say that teachers should be “treated like professionals”, but presumably if anything it means that our time and effort are valuable and not to be wasted.
A second, subtler defense of master’s degrees is that the research literature defines “effective” too narrowly. MAs may not improve math or reading test scores, but maybe there are other reasons to pay for them.
Maybe, for example, paying for master’s degrees is useful for recruitment and retention. Or maybemaster’s incentives are helpful for expanding the range of professional activities in which teachers can engage.
These stories about the potential value of master’s degrees are not impossible. Nor, however, are they clearly supported by any evidence.
It’s not even obvious to me why we should find them plausible. I’ve met many teachers with MAs, for example, but none of them to my knowledge acquired the degree to qualify for additional responsibilities in the district.
At the same time, we know that master’s degrees cost districts moderate amounts of money, are onerous for teachers to acquire, and don’t improve student test scores.
Speculation about other, conceivable-but-only-assumed benefits shouldn’t stop us from reallocating those salary bumps to across-the-board raises.
I got more response than usual to that post, with people insisting that I’m either 1) undervaluing MAs, 2) wasting the saved money on raises, or 3) neglecting the importance of improving ed schools.
I’ll probably follow up on those issues in the near future.
I thought the image selection for that post worked well on multiple levels.