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Monday, April 18, 2011

How can you say education doesn't matter?

On Saturday I testified before the Assembly Ways and Means Committee in favor of AB555. This bill would eliminate teacher seniority (last hired first fired policy), eliminate tenure (teachers would be hired on one year contracts), eliminate longevity bonuses (bonuses for reaching certain milestones in ones careers but not eliminate the lock-step pay) and eliminate the advanced degree bonus (for new hires only).

The teacher union, of course, was opposed to everything. One of the biggest sticking points, however, was the claim that earning an advanced degree was not correlated with greater student achievement.

The reaction in the room was just like this

The problem isn't that people are earning advanced degrees. Learning for its own sake is great. The problem is that school districts in Nevada (and abroad) offer substantial bonuses for additional education. In the Clark County School District, the difference between a first year teacher with a bachelors degree and a first year teacher with a masters degree is $5,655, or 16 percent. The difference between a first year BA and first year PhD is $11,435 or 25 percent. The difference between a teacher with a BA degree who has topped out of the salary schedule and a PhD who reached the top of the salary schedule is $27,430! That is a whopping 40 percent difference in pay for no statistical difference in outcome!

CCSD Teacher Salary Schedule for FY 2011 

Despite these substantial pay increases, the research continues to show these advanced degrees do not result in additional student achievement.

This revelation seems to have set off a nuclear meltdown in the Assembly meeting - teachers and elected officials alike were horrified.

Assemblywoman April Mastroluca angrily fired back "how can you say education doesn't matter?" Of course, that isn't at all what I said at all. I stated that "advanced degrees are not correlated with greater student achievement" that is, when comparing outcomes between teachers with BA and advanced degrees, there is no statistical difference in student achievement.

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith asked the same exact question, just in a more polite tone.

I have to admit I was a bit confused as to how they could be reaching the conclusion that I was stating education doesn't matter. It made no sense.

Then I realized something!

All of these people (the teachers the members of the committee) were assuming  that being educated (assuming you did in fact gain knowledge along with a piece of paper) means you know how to impart that knowledge on to others; i.e. you know how to teach.

This is exactly what the research is addressing. Does earning advanced degrees make you a better teacher? The answer is no. The reason why? Not all teachers are even good at teaching in the first place.

I can't blame teachers and politicians for protecting the status quo. Teachers get a substantial bonus and they paid a lot of money to earn those degrees. I understand why they want to preserve the system; it is self interest - a natural human tendency. My favorite quote from a teacher highlights this self-interest: "I'm not in it for the money, but I expect to be paid extra for my education." Yes, I'm not in it for the money BUT!

(My second favorite line from a teacher in opposition was "research can be used to prove anything!" My response is, "OK, so where is the research to prove your position?")

The problem is that the teachers self-interest, in this case, does not line up with the interests of the student.

We should not pay teachers extra because they got additional education. We should pay extra if that additional education produces greater student achievement. That said, I'm disappointed that the Sandoval administration is going after the low-hanging fruit of just ending advanced degree pay for new teachers. I understand why, it cuts down on the opposition of the entrenched special interest groups that want to protect their own salaries. But advanced degree bonuses is an expensive, wasteful and ineffective policy.

Paying teachers extra for advanced degrees has the same effect for student achievement

The fairest policy, especially if the goal of education is educating children rather than providing jobs to adults, is to eliminate the advanced degree bonus for everyone.

Nevada has 15,000 teachers with advanced degrees. Based on the minimum CCSD salary boost of $5,655, that is an additional $84.8 million a year spent on bonuses that have nothing to do with student achievement. We could A) eliminate that bonus all together, do no harm to the students, and save the state $169.7 million over the biennium or B) eliminate that bonus all together, do no harm to the students, and then spend that money on programs that work... possibly benefiting students.

In fact both of these suggestions are supported by Dr. Paul Peterson, a professor at Harvard University.

Explore some of the research yourself:

Chingos, Mathew and Paul Peterson. 2010. "It's easier to pick up a good teacher than to train one"  Paper prepared for A Symposium sponsored by the Economics of Education Review.

Goldhaber, Dan. 2002.  “The Mystery of Good Teaching.”  Education Next 2 (2): 50–55

Hanushek et. al. 2006. "Teacher Quality"  Handbook of the Economics of Education. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Harris, Douglas N. and Tim R. Sass. 2008. “Teacher Training, Teacher Quality and Student Achievement.” Department of Economics, Florida State University

Rivkin, Steven G., Eric A. Hanushek, and John F. Kain. 2005. “Teachers, Schools, and
Academic Achievement
.” Econometrica 73: 417–458

Patrick McGuinn, 2010. "Ringing the Bell for Teacher Tenure Reform"  Center for American Progress.

Gordon, Robert., Thomas J. Kaine, and Douglas O' Staiger, 2006. "Identifying Effective Teachers Using Performance on the Job" Brookings Institution.


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