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More pressure to reform teacher pay

  • billgates
    Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/loritingey/350043329/

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UPDATE: President Obama and Secretary Arne Duncan announced the criteria for $4.35 billion in "race to the top" money Friday, and among them is tying teacher pay to student performance. Another criterion is an aggressive school turnaround strategy.

Here is a link to the president's interview with the Washington Post, and one to the U.S. Department of Education Web site that includes a link to Duncan's speech.

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With the teacher contract talks presumably heating up, and pressure for changing teachers' pay structures growing, I wanted to draw your attention to two things that happened this week. 

The Center for American Progress and the Center for Reinventing Public Education released a report concluding that money paid by school districts to teachers for acquiring master's degrees -- especially in education rather than a content area -- is largely wasted. It urges a halt to the practice -- which forms the bedrock of most teacher contracts that base pay scales on level of education and years of experience.

The report provides a state-by-state breakdown (and Pennsylvania is actually on the low side in the percentage of education spending paid for automatic raises due to these degrees). It concludes that in an era of fiscal austerity, continuing to lay out money for something that bears no relationship to student learning is foolish.

"Teachers currently finance their master’s degree studies in anticipation of guaranteed financial returns," the report notes, "but if teachers anticipated higher pay based instead on enhanced ability to boost student achievement, their interests would be better aligned with those of their students. In the fiscal climate ahead, school systems serious about improving results for students will have no choice but to reconsider their long"

For those of you who don't want to wade through the entire report, here is the crux of it:

‐automated ways of spending money.

"The long‐cherished “master’s bump” makes little sense from a strategic point of view. On average, master's degrees in math and science have been linked to improved student achievement in those subjects, but 90 percent of teachers’ master’s degrees are in education programs. Because of the financial rewards associated with getting this degree, the education master’s experienced the highest growth rateof all master’s degrees between 1997 and 2007."

While it acknowledges that weaning teachers off this -- not to mention the colleges of education that  thrive by offering them courses -- will be difficult, it suggests that districts move now so it can change the expectations and habits of the new generation entering teaching.

On a related note, Bill Gate came to Philadelphia this week and made a speech that echoes some of these concerns. He, too, urged that teacher compensation be overhauled. The text of his speech is here.

Part of what he said:

"Our foundation has studied the variation between the teachers who get the most student achievement and those who get the least – and the numbers are absolutely unbelievable. A top quartile teacher will increase the performance of an average student—based on test scores—by 10 percentile points in a single year. What does that mean? That means that if the entire U.S., for two years, had top quartile teachers, the entire difference between us and Japan would vanish.

"So, when you see the power of the top quartile teachers, you naturally think: We should identify those teachers. We should reward them. We should retain them. We should make sure other teachers learn from them.

"But we don’t identify effective teachers and reward them. We reward teachers for things that do not identify effective teaching—like seniority and master’s degrees. And we don’t reward teachers for the one thing that does identify effective teaching—great performance."

Supt. Arlene Ackerman has said publicly that she wants to change the way teachers are paid in Philadelphia, and she elaborated on that in an interview with the Notebook. Look for more details soon in the August NEWSFLASH.

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Dale Mezzacappa

@dalemezz
Dale is a contributing editor at the Notebook. She has reported on education since 1986, most of that time with The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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