Publisher's note: The author of this post is Jesse Saffron, who is a contributor for the Carolina Journal, John Hood Publisher.
State's education schools say enrollment in advanced programs will suffer
RALEIGH - Historically, North Carolina public school teachers earning a master's degree have received an automatic 10 percent salary increase. Now the Tar Heel State may have become the first in the nation to eliminate the reward for earning the additional credential.
In July, Gov. Pat McCrory signed a budget wiping out the increase. This elimination is part of a broader reform effort to tie financial bonuses to actual teaching and student performance.
Almost 28 percent of N.C. teachers, or 27,000, hold master's degrees, costing the state's taxpayers $181 million in the 2010 fiscal year. The policy change doesn't affect this spending, but will save the state money for supplements that would have been paid to future teachers who obtain graduate degrees.
The change may have a big impact on North Carolina's 34 public and private colleges offering graduate education programs. A number of administrators have expressed concern about falling enrollment: The pay bump was a powerful incentive for students to pursue master's degrees. At Appalachian State University, for example, enrollment in the master's in education program fell by 35 students this fall, and administrators expect a bigger decline next year.
Others are apprehensive, too.
- "We are worried; some students pursue their master's in education no matter what, but I know of at least a couple who have decided to put it off because of this cut," said Russell Binkley, a professor at Western Carolina University's School of Teaching and Learning.
- "We have heard that some teachers plan to move out of state - to states that pay teachers better and recognize the advanced preparation of teachers with master's degrees," Mary Delaney, head of the department of education at Meredith College, explained in an email.
But one reason the legislature felt comfortable eliminating the extra pay is the lack of empirical support for the claim that the additional diploma improves teaching. North Carolina's nonpartisan Fiscal Research Office of the General Assembly has found that "multiple studies [indicate] that teachers with advanced degrees perform no better than teachers without advanced degrees."
One such study, conducted by the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, focused on North Carolina teachers. It concluded that the relationship between teachers with master's degrees and student achievement is statistically insignificant.
Another study, produced by economists Eric Hanushek and Steve Rivkin, shows that "a master's degree has no systematic relationship to teacher quality as measured by student outcomes."
The Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank and general proponent of teacher unions, has criticized master's degree curricula as "a 'confusing patchwork' lacking in rigor and often absent course work that a reasonable person might imagine fundamental." The CAP report also said that in the 2007-08 school year, state and local governments spent almost $15 billion nationwide for the master's pay increase, following years of expenditure increases "many times" higher than inflation.
Even Arne Duncan, the current U.S. secretary of education, favors ending the automatic pay increases for master's degrees in education. "There is little evidence [that] teachers with master's degrees improve student achievement more than other teachers - with the possible exception of teachers who earn master's in math and science," Duncan said during a 2010 speech at the American Enterprise Institute. And philanthropist Bill Gates, who has given billions of dollars for education reform, told a meeting of state education administrators that "restructuring pay systems is like kicking a beehive," but tough decisions need to be made, and one of them is to eliminate extra pay for master's degrees.
Yet some remain sympathetic to the previous policy. "[These] findings are far from conclusive and fail to consider an important aspect of receiving an advanced degree - namely, that teachers who receive their master's are often more invested in teaching," wrote Paul Fitchett, an assistant professor at UNC-Charlotte's college of education, in a recently published letter.
Students who recently entered master's programs thinking they automatically would obtain salary increases may find relief from the looming April 2014 cut-off date. Republican state Reps. Bill Brawley and Ruth Samuelson, both from Mecklenburg County, along with several others in the General Assembly, hope to extend the original date, most likely in the budget revisions that will go before next year's short session. "If you start a program based on a promise that was made, that promise has got to be kept," Brawley told the Raleigh News & Observer.
McCrory also asked the State Board of Education in September to extend the pay supplement immediately for those teachers now in master's programs. State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey told the governor the board could not authorized spending that had been removed from the state budget, but the governor insisted that the money could be found.
So the master's bonus eventually will be eliminated - beginning in April or possibly later to let current master's candidates receive the salary increase. Even so, thousands of teachers presently earning the increases will continue to receive them, as the new law doesn't affect teachers who already hold the advanced degree.