Governor McCrory surprised officials at the State Board of Education today when he announced that the state will continue to award extra pay to teachers who hold advanced degrees. The extra pay was eliminated in the most recent budget, but the governor “found” enough money – over $10 million – in the state budget to fund it anyway.
But here’s the problem: there is absolutely no conclusive evidence to show that master’s degrees and other advanced degrees have any demonstrable effect on teacher effectiveness. That is exactly the reason why the extra pay was cut in the first place: at this point, it is an accepted fact that there is no link between advanced degrees and teacher performance. Even the left-of-center Brookings Institute has concluded: “In the area of teacher preparation, substantial evidence suggests that general graduate preparation does little to improve student performance.”
In other words, there is no clear link between advanced degrees and student performance. There is one exception: “Subject matter pedagogy may improve student achievement, but no evidence exists on most other aspects of pedagogy.” So, if a history teacher goes and gets a master’s degree in history, he or she might become a more effective educator. That makes sense – teachers who are subject matter experts are probably more passionate and knowledgeable about their subject than teachers who are not. More often than not, however, teachers obtain advanced degrees in education – not their specific subject area. As a result, state funds are effectively wasted.
Teachers work hard, and they should be compensated accordingly. But paying extra for teachers with advanced degrees is foolish: It will not translate to better results in the classroom. Instead of clinging to old, ineffective incentive programs, teachers should push for performance-based bonuses. Only by introducing competition is it possible to improve student outcomes and provide fairer teacher compensation at the same time.