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December 07, 2010 5:25 PM How to Pay Teachers

By Daniel Luzer

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The education master’s degree doesn’t really make people better teachers. Last month both Education Secretary Arne Duncan and billionaire Bill Gates said that master’s degree bonuses were an example of spending money on something that doesn’t work.

So how should Americans spend public money to get good teachers? Turns out it’s a big question. According to an article by Stephen Sawchuk in Education Week, the American Federation of Teachers seems to think things work pretty much okay, putting out a press release explaining that,

While we can debate the value of a particular degree, it is undeniable that the more a teacher knows—about the subject matter and pedagogy—the more effective she can be. It’s also undeniable that our teacher education programs must better align their work with what teachers need.

Well no, not really. Sure, smart people might be more successful teachers, but that “the more you know” thing doesn’t really work here. Ineffective teaches who get masters degrees remain ineffective. Great teachers who get master’s degrees don’t become superstar teachers.

But the AFT concern makes sense. Teaching is a profession, and we have to give professionals some way to earn more money. If we eliminate the education master’s degree pay raise, we have to replace it with something else. Sawchuk has some ideas.

One option is to limit pay raises to teachers who earn specific, useful degrees. Providing science teachers with the opportunity to earn more money with graduate degrees in the sciences, for instance, might be a good way to encourage teachers to improve their skills. Currently most teachers earn master’s degrees in education.

It might also be possible to focus on outputs, rather than inputs; reward teachers for good evaluations and student progress, not their degrees. This seems like the most logical solution, though one of the problems is that there’s no common, rigorous standard for teacher evaluations. The public school system in Washington, DC implemented a pay schedule something like that, though it’s too soon to tell if this policy will raise student achievement.

The unpopularity of the new pay schedule among teachers was also part of what led to DC Superintendent Michelle Rhee’s forced resignation in October.

So it’s not going to be an easy shift to a new pay raise plan. Whatever the move, however, education schools will surly find a way to be closely involved. They have to.

Under the current plan teachers get money from their school districts to obtain master’s degrees from education schools. Once they get those master’s degrees their schools will pay them more. Teachers colleges have to be involved in education reforms; if they’re not then their whole funding stream dries up. So they’ll find a way. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer