Is it time to rethink some our laws on mandating teachers get Masters’ degrees to stay in the profession? Is it time to rethink the assumption that an advanced degree bestows upon its recipient some extra aura of competence that others without cannot attain? Most importantly, do these mandates feed into a narrative of “teachers are underpaid” that allows compensation costs to rise to unsustainable levels?
Without doubt, there is a consistent theme among defenders of the education status quo that teachers are vastly underpaid given the statutory requirements that they eventually obtain advanced degrees such as a Masters’.
The defenders would have an excellent point if there were demonstrable evidence that Master’s degrees led to positive outcomes in the classroom. However, numerous academic studies have shown that this link between teacher performance and degree obtained either does not actually exist, or is very limited.
A new item from the Manhattan Institute reinforces this point,
“Not a single one of the 34 studies that used a “high-quality” methodology (i.e., methodology that accounted for previous student test scores) evaluated in a recent review of the research by Eric Hanushek and Steven Rivkin found a relationship between a teacher’s earning a master’s degree and student achievement.”
Obviously, different studies will have different methodologies and, no doubt, those that assert the primary of advanced degrees in making good teachers will find flaws in studies not to their liking. But 34 studies did not find a link? And that is just the tip of the iceberg.
As they say where there is smoke, there is usually a fire and that type of finding certainly puts off some smoke.
None of this is to say that teachers should never seek advanced degrees.
Yet, given that supposedly low compensation for teachers for a necessary and high level of education forms a core piece of teacher union propaganda, research questioning the real value of that added education puts the onus back on the teachers unions to show that it really does matter. They should especially have to explain why simply getting a Masters, irrespective of the quality of the institution attended and grades received, entitles teachers to automatic pay increases.
Finally, why do we, as a matter of policy, force perfectly effective teachers to have to get a degree that won’t really make them any better in the classroom and, in some cases, make the taxpayer pony up the cost?
These issues should all be kept mind in the education reform debate.