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July 31, 2013 2:45 PM North Carolina Eliminates Master’s Degree Pay Raises

By Daniel Luzer

A common state policy with regard to elementary and secondary education in public schools is for teachers to earn more money automatically when they obtain master’s degrees in education. This is a particularly interesting little system, whereby the school district pays more when teachers earn the degrees, ensuring a steady revenue stream for colleges of education.

All of this is despite the fact that earning a master’s degree has no impact whatsoever on teacher performance. It doesn’t make bad teachers good and it doesn’t make good teachers better. No one’s ever been able to show that it does.

And yet, because this system is so beneficial for so many interest groups, and the policy has been in place for many years, no one’s eager to change it, despite the fact that no one can convincingly argue the policy works.

North Carolina appears to be the first state to make a change.

Legislation signed last week in the state would end the automatic pay raises that come with master’s degrees. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal:

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, signed a budget bill Friday that eliminates teacher tenure and—in a rare move—gets rid of the automatic pay increase teachers receive for earning a master’s degree.
Tim Barnsback, a teacher at Heritage Middle School in Valdese, N.C., said, “Morale is going to be at an all-time low” due to the new policies and budget. “The best and the brightest aren’t going to go into the profession,” he added.

In general I’m fairly sympathetic to the interests of labor groups, since their goal is to advocate for the interests of the workers they represent. Certainly the elimination of teacher tenure, and another part of the budget that will freeze teacher salaries, again (for the fifth time in six years) are valid concerns for the state’s teachers.

But this master’s degree policy is one it’s time to eliminate. If the act of getting a master’s degree is meaningless as far as teacher performance goes, there’s no reason to continue to promote master’s degrees. None at all. There are plenty of good reasons to raise teacher salaries as a result of achievement, or mere tenure, but this policy makes no sense. Good riddance.

Note: While education master’s degrees appear to be essentially useless, there is some evidence to suggest that high school math and science teachers who earn math and science master’s degrees (not degrees in education) do become better teachers. The North Carolina budget will eliminate pay raises for all master’s degrees.

Some 90 percent of all teachers’ master’s degrees in America are in education.

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

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