Two weeks ago, amid all the discussion and wrangling over the state budget, the Wake County Public School System released an interesting report that received little attention.
Data presented at a May 17th work session of the Wake County School Board showed that significant percentages of Wake County’s high performing teachers have neither an advanced degree or National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) certification.
Why is this important? For the longest time, educators have held that teachers with additional training –master’s degrees, doctoral degrees or national board teacher certification — are the best teachers and should be compensated accordingly.
Source: Analysis of Relationships of Degree, Certification, and EVAAS Ratings in WCPSS, Evaluation and Research Department, Wake County Public Schools. The definition for High-Performing teacher is that used by the Educational Value Added Assessment Software (EVAAS) system. EVAAS allows teachers to track educational progress of students and is available for use by nearly all WCPSS teachers.
The North Carolina Teacher Salary Schedule provides significant financial incentives for additional training. The 2010-2011 North Carolina Teacher Salary Schedule, provides for a 10 percent salary increase – above bachelor’s pay – for teachers with master’s degrees. Teachers with Doctorate degrees receive an additional $253/month. In addition; teachers with NBPTS certification receive a 12 percent increase over normal pay grade.
Quoted in an article on the subject in the Raleigh News & Observer, Wake County Superintendent Tony Tata highlights the significance of the study’s results: “an important point is we pay extra for board certified teachers and the advance degree teachers receive extra but the high-performing teachers receive nothing.”
The results released by the Office of Evaluation and Research of the Wake County Public Schools (WCPSS) found that in six different areas tracking high performing teachers – as measured by a computer program that tracks student educational progress over time – the percentage of non-credentialed high performing teachers ranged from 35 to 60 percent.
Based on the perceived importance of additional education for developing effective teachers, one would have expected the percentages of credentialed teachers among high-performing teachers to be much higher.
As the state’s largest school district, the WCPSS findings are likely to reignite the debate over teacher pay. The Wake School Board has requested additional information about the study and is expected to return to the issue again later this year.
Several bills at the state level have already been introduced to change the teacher pay schedule. The Senate budget changes salary supplements for teachers who hold both a master’s degree and NBPTS certification. The plan reduces the net pay increase of those who hold both credentials from 23.2 percent to 22 percent.
While education advocates defend the validity of the pay differentials for masters and national board certified teachers, research findings continue to question if the additional training and higher pay actually provides real long-term benefits.
Master’s Degrees. In a famous 1997 study – that has been replicated with similar results – Dan Goldhaber of the University of Washington found little connection between a masters degree and teacher effectiveness. In 2002 Goldhaber wrote “Consistent with much of the educational productivity literature (for example, Hanushek 1986, 1997), there is little evidence that a teacher having a master’s degree (or higher) is a signal of teacher effectiveness.”
NBPTS Certification. In addition to master’s degrees, recent research has also raised questions about the value of National Board Certification. Proponents of NBPTS certification point to a 2008 National Research Council (NRC) study which showed students of NBPTS certified teachers seem to learn more than students of non-certified teachers. The results have been widely distributed. However, NBPTS advocates failed to point out that the NRC study stopped far short of saying the difference in learning was attributable to NBPTS certification.
Our review of the research suggests that there is not yet compelling evidence that the existence of the certification program has had significant impact on the field, teachers, students or the educational system.
Other researchers who have also looked at the NRC study suggest the organization stopped short of a solid endorsement of NBPTS because the actual difference on test scores between students of certified versus non-certified teachers in North Carolina came down to only one point on a test with a mean score of about 150.
According to data provided by the Department of Public Instruction, North Carolina has been paying a premium to a significant number of teachers based upon their credentials, regardless of results. Nearly 21,000 have a master’s degree, while another 257 have doctorates. Moreover, roughly 6,300 of these teachers also possess National Board Certification, and another 5,400 with a bachelor’s degree are also certified.
In 2010-2011 North Carolina spent almost $60 million in financial incentives and administration of the NBPTS certification program. Monthly NBPTS pay for teachers with 16 and 1/2 years experience is $531.70. Over a ten month academic year, the NBPTS supplement adds $5,317 to teacher pay. According to the Department of Public Instruction, it costs North Carolina about $162 million annually to provide the 10 percent masters degree salary supplement to teachers and instructional staff.
North Carolina has developed a teacher salary structure which links additional training (i.e. master’s degree or NBPTS certification) with significant financial incentives. Research released by WCPSS suggests the link between good teaching and additional education is tenuous. Such findings underscore the need to rigorously evaluate such incentives and ensure they encourage student learning and reward actual results rather than a resume.
 See: Highlights of the North Carolina Public School Budget, February 2011. Page. 17. Published by Information Analysis, Division of School Business, North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Available at: http://www.ncpublicschools.org/docs/fbs/resources/data/highlights/2011highlights.pdf
 “Questioning paying more for national board certification and advanced degrees” Keung Hui, Raleigh News & Observer, May 18, 2011.
 For a more comprehensive review of the research on master’s degrees and their influence on student achievement see: “Master’s Degrees” Marc Holley, Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Available at: http://www.mackinac.org/9592
 See Report: Assessing Accomplished Teaching: Advanced Level Certification Programs, 2008, National Research Council. A
 See Highlights of the North Carolina Public School Budget February 2011, page 17 Available at: http://www.ncpublicschools.org/docs/fbs/resources/data/highlights/2011highlights.pdf
 From Department of Public Instruction correspondence, June, 2, 2011