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Monday, May 2, 2011

Additional pay for additional degrees makes no sense

Big differences in pay but there is no difference in student achievement under these teachers
Note: This is the max pay a teacher with the degree can earn in the Clark County School District without additional graduate course work or National Board Certification

I submitted the following column to the RJ a little over a week ago and they did not pick it up (at least I didn't see it published) but since the Las Vegas Sun just ran an column on the subject I thought I'd post my unpublished column here.

Last month, the Assembly Ways and Means committee met to discuss a revolutionary new education bill. AB555, as it is called, would eliminate teacher tenure, the last hired first fired seniority provision, longevity bonuses for administrators, and advanced degree bonuses for new teachers and require value-added assessment of teachers.

Pretty much everyone agrees that a great teacher is the single most important factor within a school. However, we do a terrible job recruiting, retaining and rewarding high quality teachers. Tenure, seniority and lock-step pay may be partially to blame. The rest of the blame falls on our school systems obsession with certifications and advanced degrees that research shows have no bearing on an individual’s ability to become an effective teacher.

According to scholars like Paul Peterson at Harvard and Eric Hanushek at Stanford, there is no statistical difference in quality between a teacher with a certification and no certification. Yet we only hire certified teachers. Their research (along with many others) also shows that teachers with advanced degrees are no better than teachers with bachelor degrees.

In fact, there have been consistent findings in these regards since the famous Coleman Report in 1966. Even left-of-center organizations like the Brookings Institution, Urban Institute, Center for American Progress and Democrats for Education Reform agree with the research and recognize the need for reform.

The result of this research is counterintuitive and even troubling to some. Many assume that getting an education automatically makes one more knowledgeable and more capable on the job. They also assume that additional education means an individual automatically knows how to impart that new knowledge on to others.

But these are the very questions the researchers were trying to answer. Does additional education make teachers better? The answer is no.

Additional education for its own sake is a wonderful thing, however, teachers are earning substantial bonuses for this additional education on the assumption that it makes them better teachers.

In the Clark County School District, the difference between a first year teacher with a bachelor 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 no advanced degree training who topped out of the salary schedule and a PhD who reached the top of the salary schedule is $27,430 - a whopping 40 percent difference in pay for no statistical difference in student outcomes.

With an estimated 15,000 licensed teachers with advanced degrees in the state and an assumed $5,655 minimum bonus, Nevada spends an estimated $169 million a biennium on bonuses that have no impact on student achievement. In other words we’re just wasting the money.

While I sympathize with teachers who spent their time and money earning these advanced degrees, I have to remind myself that public education isn’t supposed to be about providing jobs for adults. Education is supposed to be about educating our children.

Although AB555 would only eliminate this bonus for new teachers, we could literally eliminate this program altogether saving the state millions of dollars and do no harm to the students. Better yet, we could eliminate the bonus and then pump that money into policies that work, possibly benefiting students.


  1. The Sun editorial was just a means for them to claim to support education reform but to oppose any actual attempts to reform ed. Other than merely dumping more money into it, that is.

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