Throwing money away on the M.A.

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A new policy brief picks up on the well established finding that the practice of paying teachers for earning master's degrees--and any ol' master's degree will do--is a waste of taxpayer dollars and runs with it.

Authors Marguerite Roza from the Center on Reinventing Public Education and Raegen Miller from the Center for American Progress, make an argument that makes all too much sense. If teachers knew that their pay was tied to a measure of their effectiveness, they might make wiser choices about pursuing more education. They might, for instance, get higher degrees in math or science, where there is some evidence they help student achievement, or in the science of reading (if they could find a college or university actually offering some non-bogus instruction). Instead, because the type of degree doesn't matter, teachers flock to relatively easy programs in curriculum or administration with no evidence that these degrees add value. Of the 47.2 percent of all teachers with master's degrees, 90 percent get education degrees. Even secondary school teachers go for the education degree, with only about 23 percent specializing in academic subjects.

One might argue that because teachers aren't overly sensitive to monetary reward, policies that encourage earning advanced degrees don't matter all that much. Not true. In Washington state where teachers get the highest bump up for earning a master's degree, 56 percent of teachers have a master's degrees; in Texas where teachers get the smallest bump, just 27 percent of the teacher force have master's degrees. Most states spend between 1 and 2 percent of their education budget on these degrees.