By Todd Engdahl, EDUCATION NEWS COLORADO
“The long-cherished ‘master’s bump’ makes little sense from a strategic point of view. On average, master’s degrees in education bear no relation to student achievement,” concludes a new briefing paper from the Center On Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington Bothell.
Warning that changing economic conditions may presage an era of declining or stagnant revenues for school districts, the paper suggests policymakers may want to examine and rethink the impact of granting teachers increases based on education-related master’s degrees.
The study found Colorado roughly in the middle of the national pack for the impact of master’s degree salary differentials. Here’s what the paper reported for Colorado:
* 54 percent of teachers have master’s or higher degrees
* $5,341 is the average salary differential over a teacher with a bachelor’s degree.
* $137.6 million a year is spent on pay related to master’s.
* That equals 1.76 percent of total local, state and federal education spending in the state, equal to $169 per student.
The paper estimates that 2.1 percent of all current school spending nationwide can be attributed to master’s degree compensation, and that 48 percent of U.S. teachers have master’s degrees or above.
The percentage of total education spending tied to master’s degrees ranges from .32 percent in Texas to 3.3 percent in Washington. Colorado is among 15 states for which the percentage is at least 1.5 but less than 2 percent.
(The figures were compiled from the 2003-04 Schools and Staffing Survey by the National Center for Education Statistics, combined with 2008-09 national salary data.)
“School district finances are organized around the assumption that revenues will increase more or less steadily, and at a rate higher than inflation,” the researchers write. Economic changes “suggest it would be foolhardy to continue operating under this assumption. Many school districts will face stagnant or declining revenues for some time to come.”
That certainly seems to be the case in Colorado. Despite overall increases in state support for 2009-10, many school districts are facing instructional budget cuts because of declining enrollment (which affects a majority of state districts), mandatory increased pension contributions and other factors.
Because of the state’s deepening budget crisis and a predicted low inflation factor in the Amendment 23 formula, the 2010-11 budget situation could be even worse for districts, which also face a “cliff” after 2011, when the federal stimulus program is scheduled to expire.
“Teachers salaries increase each year with longevity and graduate credits, making them designed to escalated, and yet they have little link to student achievement,” according to the UW study. “90 percent of teachers’ master’s degrees are in education programs – a notoriously unfocused and process-dominated course of study.”
The briefing paper notes the political difficulties of doing so but suggests a gradual phase out of such salary practices. But, it suggests, “teaching candidates with salient and meaningful master’s degrees should be given preferential attention when competing for jobs, all else equal.” (They’re talking about, for instance, a math teacher with a master’s in math.)
“Teachers currently finance their master’s degree studies in anticipation of guaranteed financial returns, 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,” the researchers conclude.
The paper, “Separation of Degrees,” was done by Marguerite Roza and Raegan Miller of the CRPE.
Uh, no surprise here
In another recent briefing paper, Roza makes the seemingly obvious suggestion that school districts can avoid layoffs and larger class sizes by reducing teaching salaries.
“For decades,” Roza said, “various stakeholder groups have campaigned for both higher teacher wages and reduced class sizes. In this new era of fiscal constraints, it is now clear that the two are at odds: increasing wages means class sizes will swell, and vice versa.”
See the paper, “The Tradeoff Between Teacher Wages and Layoffs to Meet Budget Cuts,” for more details.
Some Colorado school districts and local teachers’ unions this year have been sparring over the size of increases, not wage cuts. Nationally, increasing class sizes seems to be the common reaction to budget pressures, according to this USA Today article.
The two briefing papers are part of a CRPE project named “$chools in Crisis: Making Ends Meet,” which is designed to provide research about current education budget challenges
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters