Donate today!
view counter

More pressure to reform teacher pay

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jul 23, 2009 06:46 PM

Bill Gates was in Philly this week. This picture is from the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in 2007.

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.


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.

Click Here
view counter

Comments (20)

Submitted by Paul Socolar on July 23, 2009 8:36 pm

Toward the end of his talk, Bill Gates made comments acknowledging that creating  a fair system for rewarding great teacher performance is not as easy as pie:

"I understand the legitimate concern of teachers who point out that, without the right design, teacher measurement systems based on student performance could seem arbitrary....

"...The solution is to work with teachers who are eager to help build measurement systems that are transparent, that make sense, that lead teachers to say: “This works. It’s fair. It helps me become a better teacher.”

"These systems would include test scores, but they would also involve classroom observation, parent and student surveys, and video taken in the classroom.

"We’ll know we have the answer when teachers are eager to see the data, to see how their kids are doing and find out what worked."

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on August 17, 2009 8:44 pm

Let Bill Gates come to Philly...and get his own school...his very own...Microsoft school in order...before he tells the rest of the world...his views on education...

Speak from experience...not just out of one's ear...if you know what I mean...

Submitted by EnoughIsEnuff!!! (not verified) on July 24, 2009 12:33 am

The CEO who has pigged the greatest salary for herself wants to change the way teachers are paid? Sounds like she's back to unionbusting with her clueless pal, Bill Gates, the charter shil. Hey Bill, charters don't work! We've had four studies in recent years that have proved it so it's time to drop that scheme. If you want to truly reform school education why don't you put your money where your mouth is and fund schools runs by teachers, not political machines. I love how these Centers are such authorities on what is wasted and what is not. I haven't received a single cent from for my Masters from the school district and yet they want to tell me now that it's worthless. Didn't Bill Gates waste his time in college which is why he dropped out? Try teaching in a real live urban classroom, Bill. You will finally wake up to the fact that teaching is alot more complex than the simplistic fingerpointing solution you think will solve everything. It's been a quarter of a century since Ackerman was actually in a classroom to teach.

Submitted by Mr.Boyle (not verified) on July 24, 2009 10:10 am

Doesn't stand to reason that if Masters in Education degrees do not improve student performance, then it is the colleges and universities that need to overhaul their programs, not teachers seeking to improve their craft? As someone about to embark on his Master's in Education with a principle certificate program, I would certainly hope that the college I am entrusting my thousands of dollars and hours of time to, has come up with a thoughtful and comprehensive course of study. I also think it is odd that there is no mention of the requirement that teachers in PA need to obtain a number of graduate level courses to receive their Level II certification. If teachers need obtain coursework above the undergraduate level, shouldn't there be defined and effective paths to meet that goal? It seems that what needs to be done is coordination between PDE and universities, not a changing of teacher compensation.

Submitted by Samuel Reed III on July 24, 2009 2:00 pm

I am wondering what traction the National Board of Professional Teacher Standards (NBPTS) certification process should play in reforming teachers pay? I am currently undergoing this process in my content area (Middle Years Literacy), finished my professional portfolio, exams and awaiting my results. This process is voluntary, rigorous, and peer reviewed. I was surprised how few teachers were undergoing the process in our district even after the state was paying the certification cost $2,500 and offering financial incentives for teacher who become NBPTS certified. I think the process helps confidentially identify quality teachers.  I further think NBPTS should be one of the factors under consideration when teacher pay is being revised. Why are so many teachers not going through this NBPTS process and why does it not seem to be a part of the teacher pay equation talks?

Submitted by chattyC (not verified) on July 24, 2009 7:12 pm

"These systems would include test scores, but they would also involve classroom observation, parent and student surveys, and video taken in the classroom. >Gates

Sorry Bill, no can do in this city. Cameras are not allowed in the classroom and with good reason.

Submitted by chattyC (not verified) on July 24, 2009 7:37 pm

Parent and student surveys tied to teacher pay?? Please stick to what you know Bill, and leave education and educational reform up to us.. Much appreciated.

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on July 24, 2009 10:49 pm

Yes, Bill Gates has a lot of credibility in Philly...with education...

Just look at the fabulously funded and excellent School of the Future...

It is rated as one of the ten most dangerous schools in Pennsylvania...

Great job...the School of the Future is Bill Gate's school...heavily funded and financed by Bill Gates...same thing...and it is a "Dante's Inferno..."

Keep up the fine work...

Submitted by EnoughIsEnuff!!! (not verified) on July 25, 2009 12:15 am

Good point, why is Gates can't get his own house in order (the School of Future is hazardous to your health), but has time to tell everyone else how to do their jobs. Hey Billy, climb down from your Ivory Tower. roll up your sleeves, and step into the classroom for a year as a teacher. You sort 'em, Billyboy, then show the rest of us peons what we should be doing.

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on July 25, 2009 6:14 pm


Bill Gates makes more money...than even Dr. Arlene Ackerman...let him...go into his own creation...School of the Future...and see what a hell-hole that is...

Bill Gates has too much to say on education and immigration issues...he failed in his opinion means shinola...

What a pompous one...let him stick to he knows nothing about...

What do you say?

Submitted by Dale Mezzacappa on July 27, 2009 10:29 am

School of the Future has never been on Pennsylvania's persistently dangerous list. Please check your facts before you make claims. The school has had its issues, particularly leadership turnover, but describing it as "Dante's Inferno" without any information to back it up is totally out of bounds. There are lots of very promising, interesting things going on there, and it has a dedicated, hardworking staff that is trying very hard, with some success, to create new models of teaching and learning. We will take down comments that make claims that like this that are wrong, defamatory and unsupported. 

Submitted by EnoughIsEnuff!!! (not verified) on July 27, 2009 12:12 pm

I don't kinow if the School of Future is on the persistently dangerous list, but it has a reputation as a violent school. This is based on the postings on the (which mysteriously disappeared from public view on July 8th!) about this very school. The bottom line is that Bill Gates is trying to 1) Use teachers as scapegoats for societies ills and administrative incompetence; 2) Use technology to solve problems that have more to do with discipline. Gates has never taught in an urban school. Having him tell urban teachers how to do their business if like teachers trying to tell him how to build computers. He assumes because he's was successful at one thing that means he knows how to solve other problems. How can Gates think he can solve the problem of American education if he never listens to what teachers have to say. The School of the Future is proof that Gates doesn't grasp what is happening inside public schools. Why does he endorse charters STILL with all the studies that have proven they are failures? There are lots of "hardworking staffs", Dale, throughout the public school system, not just those belonging to the charter shils. Let's have some support for them.

Submitted by Dale Mezzacappa on July 27, 2009 1:09 pm

Phillyblog is (or was, not a coincidence it is gone) not an authoritative source of information. As I said, unsupported statements like these about particular schools for which the writers have no personal knowledge will no longer be kept up on the site. 


Submitted by EnoughIsEnuff!!! (not verified) on July 27, 2009 1:57 pm

"Phillyblog is not an authoritative source of information"!?! And the Notebook is? True, anybody could post information on Phillyblog, but both sides of every issue read and commented on the postings. Unlike the Notebook, subject could be brought up for discussion. Outside of spam or outright swearing at somebody postings were not censored. Could it be Dale that you didn't like what was posted because the postings often came from the horse's mouth, teachers. Teachers know better than anybody what is going on in schools. It's amazing how the benchwarmers think they know what is important or can solve the problems in our schools without ever having taught in a classroom. When this district starts listening to teachers, in public forums held in the evening, then the public will see what needs to be done in our schools.

How do you know who does or doesn't have personal knowledge about particular schools? Do you teach at the School of the Future?

Submitted by Dale Mezzacappa on July 27, 2009 1:21 pm

I do not teach at SOF, but I have spent time in the school.

As for The Notebook, we do not censor comments -- as you know --nor do we limit who can comment or what position people take, unless it is offensive.  Unlike some other blogs and sites, we try to maintain standards of accuracy and verification. The SOF comments were inaccurate. It was never on the persistently dangerous list, and the characterizations were completely unsupported by any facts.  

Submitted by EnoughIsEnuff!!! (not verified) on July 27, 2009 7:41 pm

While I agree that offensive names isn't really freedom of speech and therefore should be deleted the issue of what appears on The Notebook is not representative of what public school teachers would like to see addressed. So there are limits on what subjects are addressed posted on this site. Just a fact, I'm afraid. I know the issue of Dr. Carr's racist remarks towards the white teachers of the Philadelphia School District at the 2001 MLK.Jr. inservice has never been really addressed. Nor the fact the PFT failed to demand the apology they reluctantly admitted the Philadelphia School District owe the white teachers.

You say Dale that you spent time at the School of the Future, but how much time? A morning, a day, volunteered to work in the classroom for an entire year? In what capacity? As an Inquirer writer? Sorry, but the Inquirer has rarely chosen to give coverage to teachers who are critical of the school district. I discovered this first hand through dealing with Inky reporters. Most of what the Inquirer (and the rest of the Philly media) writes sounds like little more than PR handed out by the political-driven administration.

The persistently dangerous list was not my comment, but the reports of danger at that school came from teachers whose posts I usually agree with on school issues. Too many professional bloggers-reporters, etc. have an agenda that is dictated to them. Why would these teacher suddenly lie about a certain school? You mentioned the high administrative turnover. Why is that?

The Notebook does need to expand its teacher blogs beyond the current three TFA associates representing the district. We're not seeing many of the issues that affect teachers directly. Look at District 299 and the comments that are on their daily. The information readers can gather just from the comments easily eclipses what the Chicago press passes off as school news.

Submitted by f (not verified) on July 25, 2009 8:22 am

An effective elementary teacher of reading assists his/her students to judge the qualifications of the author of a story. This is an important comprehension skill. In examining research studies one should check for bias on the part of the researcher. Here is a brief blurb from the web page of the organization that created this research study.

The Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) was founded in 1993 at the University of Washington. CRPE engages in independent research and policy analysis on a range of K-12 public education reform issues, including choice & charters, finance & productivity, teachers, urban district reform, leadership, and state & federal reform.

CRPE's work is based on two premises: that public schools should be measured against the goal of educating all children well, and that current institutions too often fail to achieve this goal. Our research uses evidence from the field and lessons learned from other sectors to understand complicated problems and to design innovative and practical solutions for policymakers, elected officials, parents, educators, and community leaders.

Clearly this organization has a particular point of view as it approaches the task of designing, conducting and evaluating a research study. It would be prudent for the reader to ask questions concerning the validity of this report rather than accepting it as another sound bit in the arsenal of, "The NCLB language of manipulation of school reform

Submitted by EnoughIsEnuff!!! (not verified) on July 27, 2009 1:49 pm

The site ran from 2002. It's demise, I suspect, has to do with trying to silence any and all sources of commentary about school reform. It was read by various government agencies as well as the public. Is it just coincidence that they disappear the last month that the Philadelphia teachers union is getting ready to negotiate a new contract?

Submitted by f (not verified) on July 27, 2009 4:39 pm

This discussion is quickly wandering far a field. Lets stick to the original point of the thread.

I have taken the time to read the report from the Center for American Progress and the center for Reinventing Public Education and the referenced Hamilton Report from the Brookings Institute I do not see any evidence that supports the conclusion that money paid by school districts to teacher’s for acquiring master’s degrees—especially in education rather than in a content area—is largely wasted. Essentially the CAPRPE report is a policy paper for elected officials that shows state by state how much money is spent annually on a master degree salary bump. There is no data shown that links student achievement to the effectiveness of teacher with a master degree versus a teacher with a bachelor degree. This is particularly interesting in reviewing the report from the Brookings Institute which points out that currently there isn’t an effective means to link individual student performance to an individual teacher’s effectiveness.

What does appears to be the purpose of this report is to point out to state and federal legislators how current funding can be redirected in order to pursue reform strategies of their choose. Simply put, change how you compensate teachers in order to save money.
Legislators can use these savings to pursue the reform de jour of their choice. Educational spending can be increased in other areas by two to three percent in this manner. There is no need to seek additional taxes revenues. For legislators this could be a good deal built on the back of teachers.

Lets discuss whether this is a potentially effective reform strategy or another attempt to avoid paying for a quality equable school system for all children.

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on July 28, 2009 9:17 am

F. Jospeh Merlino is quoted in today's Inquirer as saying the percentage of parents who have bachelors degree in the community is the single best predictor of a school's performance. This is inline with many studies concluding the home is the most important environment in determining a child's academic achievement. To improve schools then we need different strategies for different neighborhoods. Why after all this time don't educational leaders get this?
Maybe we need to become the educational leaders.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

By using this service you agree not to post material that is obscene, harassing, defamatory, or otherwise objectionable. We reserve the right to delete or remove any material deemed to be in violation of this rule, and to ban anyone who violates this rule. Please see our "Terms of Usage" for more detail concerning your obligations as a user of this service. Reader comments are limited to 500 words. You are fully responsible for the content that you post.

Follow Us On

Read the latest print issue

Philly Ed Feed

Recent Comments


Public School Notebook

699 Ranstead St.
Third Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: (215) 839-0082
Fax: (215) 238-2300

© Copyright 2013 The Philadelphia Public School Notebook. All Rights Reserved.
Terms of Usage and Privacy Policy