I recently read an interesting report from the Brookings Institute asking, “Who Profits from the Master’s Degree Pay Bump for Teachers?” Written by Matthew M. Chingos, a Harvard Ph.D. and Fellow in the Brookings Institute’s Brown Center on Education Policy, the article highlights multiple studies concluding that “teachers with master’s degrees are no more effective in the classroom, on average, than their colleagues without advanced degrees.” Dr. Chingos notes “This finding may be non-controversial among researchers, but it has largely been ignored by policymakers.” I have written about this topic before and regularly have conversations with school leaders across the country about the connection between degree attainment and educator effectiveness. As more states and education colleges rethink their approach to teacher preparation, I thought it was timely and relevant to revisit the issue.
Last year, North Carolina lawmakers passed legislation ending supplemental pay for teachers who earn a master’s degree. The bill also established a task force--including teachers, district administrators, legislators, policy experts, and other stakeholders--to study educator effectiveness and compensation. North Carolina is not the only state to enact significant policy changes related to degrees, years of service, performance, and the compensation of teachers. Education leaders in Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, and Utah, among other states, have all addressed the issue in some capacity in recent years.
This policy shift is not only impacting teacher compensation, but degree granting institutions as well. Education colleges appear to be choosing one of three paths when it comes to the future of their undergraduate and graduate-level programs.
1. Keep the status quo--Despite the growing body of research showing a weak correlation between master’s degrees and educator effectiveness--and moves by several state legislatures to remove financial incentives for advanced degree attainment--some colleges and universities have chosen to stay the course with their educator preparation programs for a variety of reasons.
2. We’re out--I have heard rumblings from national education groups that some higher education institutions are exploring the idea of ending their master’s or doctoral degree programs altogether. However, I have yet to see any official announcements.
3. Back to the drawing board--Several universities are looking at the research and talking to their customers-- teachers, principals, district leaders, etc.--about what is working, what could be improved, and how to better align degree programs to prepare educators for success. The result? Education colleges across the country are changing how and who they recruit and admit; what students are learning in these programs; and how they incorporate technology in the classroom.
For example, the University of Memphis College of Education, Health, and Human Services has embedded research-based best practices in its educator preparation program pertaining to Common Core State Standards, formative assessment, differentiated instruction/assessment, integration of technology, and reality-based problem solving. The curriculum was rebuilt to be more practitioner-focused and to reflect the “real world of teaching.” The college is also working on a five-year initiative with the goal of ensuring that the pipeline of teacher candidates it produces is of the highest quality and of appropriate size to meet ever-growing local demands. In doing so, the university aims to establish the country’s premier teacher preparation program.
It will be interesting to see how states, districts, and higher education institutions continue to respond to the shifting landscape around educator preparation, performance, and compensation. K-12 talent managers can help teachers, leaders, and other staff understand what is happening and why, how any changes in state or district policy might impact them personally, and how they can have a voice in the process.
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