Legislature's GOP leaders need to re-think their education policies | Beaufort County Now | Jesse Saffron, a staffer at the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy think tank has a well reasoned and lucid piece in the Carolina Journal on the issue of extra pay for teachers with graduate degrees.

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    Jesse Saffron, a staffer at the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy think tank has a well reasoned and lucid piece in the Carolina Journal on the issue of extra pay for teachers with graduate degrees.

    He chronicles the recent changes coming from the new Republican legislature to eliminate the extra pay. They contend that it is better policy to pay teachers based on "merit" than on holding a graduate certification. Supporters of that idea point to the dearth of solid data to show that teachers with masters produce higher performing students.

    Click here to go to the original source to read Jesse's article.

    I have some thoughts on this myself, based on my forty some odd years of experience, including fifteen teaching graduate students in the ECU School of Education.

    First, it is absurd to base a public policy decision such as this on the current research extant on the issue of the correlation between certification and student achievement. The simple explanation for why this is so is that North Carolina's student performance data does not measure what would reasonably be expected to be the results of the teacher having a graduate degree. It only measures "minimum competency" and that is something very different from what impact a more highly trained teacher would most likely have on their students.

    I have looked far and wide over the years, but have never found a solid study that holds constant the other variables that impact student achievement as measured by these End-of-Grade and End-of-Course tests and certification or even experience (the two dominate criteria for higher pay). No, there is no solid data to show that just because a teacher has a masters that either her/his students do better on these tests because the tests both do not measure the right variables nor control for intervening variables. You can write a book explaining that, but suffice it to say that the research does not tell us one way or the other whether paying teachers more for graduate certification has any impact on student learning. The research does not support a public policy decision on graduate certification pay one way or the other.

    But ironically, the same can be said for the status of research that shows whether "paying the best teachers more" has any direct impact on student learning. There has been a lot of research on merit pay and in the final analysis it comes down to: "maybe" or "perhaps under certain conditions."

    There is a fatal flaw in the Republicans' policy of merit pay for teachers. It presumes only a small percentage of teachers deserve it. But how do they know that? If you establish a merit pay plan that rewards, say 15% of the teachers, but in reality 85% of the teachers are so close together in student achievement that you can't statistically distinguish among them, what have you done? You have ticked off 70% of your teachers. For example, just hypothetically presume we had valid student performance data on all of our students and you rank all the teachers based on those data, what percentage do you think would be significantly different (higher/lower) than the others? Would it be a bell shaped curve? My experience tells me it would not. I would conjecture that more than 80% of the teachers would have "acceptable" student performance data, compared to all the other teachers. It's the "Lake Wobegon Effect" applied to the quality of teachers. Most of our teacher are above average.

    So if you pay the "top 15%" more, you have imposed a very unfair policy on more teachers than you have justifiably rewarded with extra pay. Merit pay would not improve teacher motivation but en toto it would lower motivation. And that disregards an abundance of research in human motivation that says that a slight difference in pay does not produce significant increases in performance anyway.

    North Carolina is simply barking up the wrong tree in adopting a policy that eliminates extra pay for graduate certification and imposes a 'merit pay' system that is not based on common sense, much less solid research.

    If you want proof, here it is: For years I have observed that the teachers with seniority (or who are better liked by the principal) get better students assigned to them. If you don't believe this, look at who teaches remedial math and English versus who teaches honors level math and English. A teacher with 120 students in Physical Science cannot honestly be compared, on the basis of minimum competency test data, to a teacher who has only Physics and AP Math courses, and often as not significantly fewer students. Moreover, how do you compare a teacher of exceptional students to a teacher who teaches Advanced Biology courses?

    I favor extra pay for graduate certification. The reason I do is because it rewards initiative. Same for National Board Certification. Most of the graduate students I taught were working fulltime while working on their masters, sixth year certification or doctorate. Enrollment in graduate school, to take three hours of class after sometimes driving an equal amount of time to and from after working all day, is a self-screening process that does in fact say something about how much initiative those students have. In that sense they self identify themselves on a variable that I think is very significant. It is certainly more significant than simply gaining more experience, which is the dominate pay criteria. We've all heard the old cliché: 10 years of experience or 1 year of experience 10 times.

    If the Legislature indeed does not believe that graduate education is worth a 10% increase in pay they then should look at eliminating many graduate degree programs they are paying big bucks to maintain at present.

    Graduate education in schools of education is deplorable. There are people teaching students to be principals who have never been a principal a day in their lives, much less having been exemplary principals for enough years that they know what they're talking about. Ditto superintendents. We pay to certify many more students to be superintendents than ever become a superintendent. And those are the most expensive training programs the taxpayesr shoulder the burden of paying for.

    One of the major flaws in our system of educator training has been that the incentives often promote the best teachers leaving teaching. I myself enrolled in graduate school to become an administrator simply because I could not have raised a family on my teacher salary, even with G certification. And if the state persists in this nonsense of abolishing graduate pay for classroom teachers it will mean that many more of them will get administrative degrees and leave the classroom.

    In my opinion, if the Legislature wants to improve the quality of teachers in our state they will do two things, primarily: 1. Get a higher quality of student to enroll in teacher training programs and 2. Seriously reform the educator training programs in our graduate schools. You'll have to think through this, but this is my parting shot to illustrate the absurdity of North Carolina's public policy: The state would have better teachers if it paid more for higher SAT scores for students entering college. Like former Georgia Governor Lester (The axe) Maddox once said about another area in need of reform: "if you want better prison rehab programs, you've got to send me better prisoners." Or, "low quality in, low quality out."

    And these same politicians would eliminate the Teaching Fellows program.

    Bless us and save us.

    Delma Blinson writes the "Teacher's Desk" column for our friend in the local publishing business: The Beaufort Observer. His concentration is in the area of his expertise - the education of our youth. He is a former teacher, principal, superintendent and university professor.
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