Welcome to the Profit of Education website. Continuing the conversation begun in the book Profit of Education, we discuss the latest economic evidence on education reform.

Master’s degrees

Did you see the new AP story, “Economists want to stop teachers’ degree bonuses,” by Donna Gordon Blankinship, or the related New York Times story about Bill Gates recent speech? Here’s the AP lead.

Every year, American schools pay more than $8.6 billion in bonuses to teachers with master’s degrees, even though the idea that a higher degree makes a teacher more effective has been mostly debunked.

Despite more than a decade of research showing the money has little impact on student achievement, state lawmakers and other officials have been reluctant to tackle this popular way for teachers to earn more money.

“Debunked?” Perhaps you find it surprising, as I did when I first studied the evidence, but this is a pretty well settled question. On average, teachers with masters degrees don’t get any better results than do other teachers. (Dan Goldhaber is responsible for some of the earliest research on the topic.) 45 percent of teachers have picked up master’s, leading to roughly $9 billion a year in extra pay. That’s $9 billion spent not very effectively. And don’t forget the hundreds of millions of hours of personal time wasted by teachers in earning useless credentials.

But be careful what conclusion you take from this. Teacher pay is too low–way too low! Paying for master’s isn’t a very good way of paying teachers, but at least it helps keep average salaries from being even lower. Redirect the masters’s-bonus into teacher paychecks in other ways? Great. Cut  the bonus just to save money? Dumb, dumb, dumb.

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3 Responses to Master’s degrees

  1. Julia D. says:

    Having attended a graduate school of Education and also taught some of the courses, I can see why this is the case. Some teachers see a lot of professional development as something they just have to do or be present at in order to get paid more. If teachers were paid based on merit (results), they would have more incentive to seek out professional development that actually helps them do a better job, and to get something out of every class they attend. Just being present at any old classes is not going to do the trick or motivate tired teachers to do their best.

  2. Maurice says:

    Yes, that is surprising. I suspect that the analysis does not focus very well. On one end, there are numerous measures of teacher success that are not reflected by the students’ standardized test scores or college matriculation rates that are usually offered as evidence. On the other, do the data show that teachers who receive degrees from a rigorous program in an accredited school of education fare no better? There is world of difference between that and someone piling up credits, and it is too bad that the profession has cheapened itself by treating credit-hour thresholds on par with degrees involving reading, research, and critical thinking.

    • dstartz says:

      I don’t know of any studies that differentiate among programs offering master’s degrees. We’d be ever so much better off if the good programs were identified by independently produced evidence.

      NCTQ does have reports on ed schools in several states at http://www.nctq.org/p/edschools/.

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