They are politically tough to eliminate, not correlated with teacher effectiveness outside the math and science fields, and generally unaligned with districts’ priorities for professional development.
Nevertheless, salary differentials for teachers who earn additional course credits or hold advanced degrees—otherwise known as “lane” increases or the “master’s degree bump”—are among the costliest aspects of teacher development.
“It is so depressing, I have to say,” Paul B. Ash, the superintendent of the 6,300-student Lexington, Mass., school system, said of the cost. “You have to pay teachers what they’re worth, ... but the issue for me is whether that’s the best way to spend money to increase teacher capacity to increase learning. Is it? I don’t think so.”
Sorting Through the Jumble to Achieve Success
An analysis released by the Center on Reinventing Public Education, located at the University of Washington, in Bothell, found that states spend millions of dollars paying teachers for earning extra credentials, even in fields like education or leadership that research does not associate with improved student learning.
As professional-development spending comes under the spotlight, a conceptual challenge awaits: Should those costs be considered and budgeted as part of spending on teacher professional development, or be reserved for a larger conversation on teacher pay?
Karen Hawley Miles, the president of Education Resource Strategies, a nonprofit organization that conducts analyses of district spending patterns, argues that such costs should be included in reviews of district spending on professional development, since they represent an investment in teachers’ knowledge and skills. In Philadelphia, her Newton, Mass.-based group found, the increments made up nearly 40 percent of total dollars invested in teacher training in 2007-08, outpacing even the amount spent on teacher coaching and in-service workshops.
Other finance experts aren’t convinced those costs should be budgeted as professional development. Allan R. Odden, a professor of educational leadership and policy analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, points out that private industries often compensate their employees more for earning degrees like M.B.A.s and for advanced certification.
These mini-profiles—including video interviews—are meant to provide insight, but not to serve as representative examples of the districts in which they teach or programs in question. Their diverse experiences highlight the challenges districts face in providing high-quality training matched to each teacher’s needs.
“No private-sector company would consider increased salary for knowledge and skills in their training budget; that would be in their salary budget,” he argued. A more productive goal for districts would be to revamp the entire pay schedule, rather than tinker with just lane increases, Mr. Odden added.
Despite a resurgence of interest in alternative-pay plans, most districts have only gone so far as to offer bonuses on top of the salary schedule. Just a few have ever attempted to put in totally new compensation systems.
That’s the primary reason that Mr. Ash, in Massachusetts, hasn’t attempted to tackle the issue.
“It’s hard in every way—it’s intellectually hard, it’s politically hard, it requires an enormous amount of persistence,” he said about changing the tradition of lane salary boosts.
“You’re trying to overcome 80 years of history, … and in the meantime, you’re paying for those courses forever.”
A version of this article appeared in the November 10, 2010 edition of Education Week as Questions Arise on Credentials