School districts across Illinois waste more than $941 million a year by giving raises to teachers who earn their master’s degrees, even though most studies show these degrees do nothing to boost student achievement.
In fact, even U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan thinks this is one of the worst ways to spend money in education. He said as much in a 2010 speech:
“Doing more with less will likely require reshaping teacher compensation to do more to develop, support and reward excellence and effectiveness, and less pay to people based on paper credentials […] Districts currently pay about $8 billion each year to teachers because they have master’s degrees, even though there is little evidence teachers with master’s degrees improve student achievement more than other teachers.”
Still, districts in Illinois increase teacher salaries by an average of $11,190 when they earn their masters’ degrees – the biggest such increase in the country.
Numerous studies, including one conducted by Douglas Harris and Tim Sass at the nonpartisan Urban Institute, show that paying teachers for earning additional degrees is not a good use of taxpayers’ money.
In a recent report from The Wall Street Journal, Thomas J. Kane, an economist at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who has studied the relationship between teachers earning advanced degrees and its impact on student success, said that “paying teachers on the basis of master’s degrees is equivalent to paying them based on hair color.”
Some states have already made changes to the way they compensate teachers for earning master’s degrees.
In August, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed a landmark budget bill that eliminated automatic pay increases for teachers who earn their master’s degrees. Previously, North Carolina teachers received an average $5,148 bump in their salaries when they earned their master’s degrees, and the state spent more than $171 million increasing teachers’ salaries in response to the law.
Tennessee recently adopted a policy that requires districts to adopt salary schedules that put less emphasis on advanced degrees and more on factors such a teacher performance. In Newark, N.J., the local school district decided to pay teachers for master’s degrees only if they are linked to the district’s new math and reading standards.
Districts across the country have wasted billions of dollars paying for master’s degrees. In fact, between 2004 and 2008, the nation’s annual outlay for master’s degree bumps surged 72 percent to $14.8 billion.
Millions of dollars have been spent in Illinois paying teachers for earning master’s degrees – not because it benefits students, but because of pressure from powerful teachers unions and administrators. It’s the natural result of a system that is based on politics, not the rules of the market.
Teacher pay should be based on results, parent feedback and choices; not arbitrary policies created by the state.