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States Rethinking Automatic Raises for Teachers with Master’s Degrees

Posted by Leslie Eastman    Monday, October 7, 2013 at 2:00pm

Despite the fact that there is no evidence that advanced degrees lead to more effective teaching, many states have automatically given pay raises for master’s degrees.
In the wake of tight budgets, many states are rethinking that policy. The Wall Street Journal’s Stephanie Banchero has these details:
The nation spends an estimated $15 billion annually on salary bumps for teachers who earn master’s degrees, even though research shows the diplomas don’t necessarily lead to higher student achievement.
And as states and districts begin tying teachers’ pay and job security to student test scores, some are altering—or scrapping—the time-honored wage boost.
Lawmakers in North Carolina, led by Republican legislators, voted in July to get rid of the automatic pay increase for master’s degrees. Tennessee adopted a policy this summer that mandates districts adopt salary scales that put less emphasis on advanced degrees and more on factors such as teacher performance. And Newark, N.J., recently decided to pay teachers for master’s degrees only if they are linked to the district’s new math and reading standards.
The moves come a few years after Florida, Indiana and Louisiana adopted policies that require districts to put more weight on teacher performance and less on diplomas.
“Paying teachers on the basis of master’s degrees is equivalent to paying them based on hair color,” said Thomas J. Kane, an economist at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and director for the Center for Education Policy Research.
Mr. Kane said decades of research has shown that teachers holding master’s degrees are no more effective at raising student achievement than those with only bachelor’s, except in math. Researchers have also shown that teachers with advanced degrees in science benefit students.
Mr. Kane and other critics suggest that schools alter pay plans to reward teachers on other accomplishments, such as advancing student achievement.
…For decades, U.S. teachers have been paid on a salary scale known as “step and lane,” which awards automatic pay bumps for years of service and advanced degrees. In general, the raises come on top of annual increases negotiated through collective bargaining.
Advances in data collection have allowed researchers and state officials to link student achievement more directly to teachers. The data reveal wide variations in teacher effectiveness and have shown, for example, that educators improve rapidly during the first few years in the classroom, peak at about 6-10 years of experience and then level off.

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