Saturday, November 20, 2010

Do teachers with Master's degrees deserve higher pay?

According to the latest news meme being flogged, people all the way up to Bill Gates think that we need to stop giving pay increase to teachers earning Master's degrees. According to research, which has been around for some time, teachers with Master's degrees don't necessarily do any better job as teachers, particularly when it comes to having their students perform on high-stakes testing.
One has to wonder, given this extraordinary abrogation of the social contract by bean counters, who think they can use such a shabby argument to cajole teachers into working cheaper, whether they have applied the same standards to any other profession. Seriously, does having an MBA guarantee that an employee will be more productive than they would have been otherwise, in a randomly chosen business situation? One suspects that research would not even be necessary to confirm that merely having an MBA is no guarantee that a person will automatically be more productive in business, in general. In fact, some have argued that even a bachelor's degree is often a waste of both time and money, which likewise does not guarantee better performance than people who forgo such training. Yet businesses often pay people more for having an MBA. Where is the outcry from Bill Gates about this?
For that matter, when people in the financial industry drive their companies into bankruptcy, requiring government bailouts, we see many in the business industry defending the award of massive bonuses to these individuals. There has been some outcry on that, but not nearly what there should be given the enormity of those bonuses compared to education budgets.
Similarly, one might ask whether the enormous salaries of educational administrators produces better outcomes in education. Indeed, there are many things upon which educational funds are spent that we could attack on the grounds that they do not necessarily improve educational outcomes. How strongly connected are custodial services and student test performance? Do sports programs really contribute more than they cost in terms of opportunity costs, both financially and academically? The point is that singling out increased pay for teachers with advanced education seems out-of-line, compared to other expenditures.
Now, granted, pointing to other people making similar mistakes does not make one's own position any less mistaken. That is why I spoke of a social contract being abrogated. We have generally accepted in society that people with higher levels of education are worth more and should be paid more. The reality is that, when we try to measure how true this is, and to what degree, we might have a hard time proving that someone with an MBA or a Masters in Education is really worth the additional amount we may have decided to pay them. Especially given the possibility that we may be failing to measure all the ways that such individuals may contribute to society, it seems both foolish and unfair to push for cuts in pay for one particular group, like teachers. Given that so many other professions are dependent upon the basic education received in the k-12 system, this kind of tampering, in fact, seems nothing short of reckless.

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