More education doesn’t lead to better teachers?

December 7, 2010 at 8:17 am 6 comments

Below is a quote from a speech from Bill Gates to the Council of Chief State School Officers.  I would have thought that a Master’s degree would mean a better educated teacher, and that increasing teacher knowledge would lead to increased student performance — but I admit to having no evidence for this belief.  I wonder if the problem here isn’t the pay bump, but the Master’s degree.  If the degree doesn’t lead to better student achievement, maybe we’re not doing enough in the Master’s degree?

Another feature of school budgets is a bump in pay for master’s degrees. But a master’s degree has almost no impact on achievement.

Nevertheless, my own state of Washington has an average salary bump of nearly $11,000 for a master’s degree – and more than half of our teachers get it. That’s more than $300 million every year that doesn’t help kids. And that’s just one state. As a country, we spend $9 billion a year for master’s degrees.

via Bill Gates: Council of Chief State School Officers | Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Erik Engbrecht  |  December 7, 2010 at 8:37 am

    I’d replace “do enough” with “do the wrong things.” It’s quite easy to do a lot – to confer a lot of knowledge in this case – without any of it affecting the desired outcomes. A masters degree should be able to produce an observable positive effect without increasing the resources spent on the masters degree. Once the effect produces is in line with the resources being spent on it, then it makes sense to talk about the need to apply more resources.

    Of course figuring out how to produce requires education research, which requires resources. But those resources are trivial relative to those spent on the teachers obtaining the masters degrees and the subsequent increases in pay.

  • 2. Alan Kay  |  December 7, 2010 at 10:27 am

    (Of course, Bill could trivially make up the $9B/year difference …)

    But, it would be good to know just what the story is these days.

    It was certainly the case years ago that not a lot of additional detectable content knowledge seemed to come along with the Masters degrees. Our observation back then was that the credits were done very incrementally, and when enough had been accumulated the degree was conferred (why get it? … because of the increase in salary).

    One could imagine advanced degrees with a lot of content attached to them, and that these would not just be worth the public paying for them, but the public should “strongly encourage” that teachers (esp in K-8) actually learn the deeper content of their subjects.



  • 3. Peter Keane  |  December 7, 2010 at 10:50 am

    I can’t help but wonder how “impact on achievement” is being measured. Certainly the tools/methods in place now are deeeply flawed. My wife (who in addition to a teaching certificate, has a Master’s degree in foreign language education), because of her degree, works with kids with greater challenges than many others — generally they are not native English speakers. It’s not at all clear to me that “impact on achievement” is being measured in a meaningful way. Her effectiveness, on the other hand, IS being measured, by her principle and by other teachers.

  • 4. Katrin Becker  |  December 7, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    It’s fairly clear to me that more is not better. Bigger isn’t always better either.

    There are plenty of masters programs out there that really don’t help teachers become better teachers, and perhaps too many teachers take masters degrees more for the higher pay than for the improved practice.

    I think we need to look at WHY teachers take masters programs. I have spoken to far too many teachers in masters programs who are primarily doing it because it is the only way they can move up the ranks – they want to get into admin because it pays better. They were never really in it to become better teachers.

    Also, many of the courses I’m familiar with paint a very rosy picture of idealized teaching and learning (with all the latest tech toys of course) but very few actually offer ideas on how to make any of this work in a real school.

    The same thing happens at teacher’s conventions and Ed Tech conferences – teachers come away from these things all pumped about the cool things they have seen and now want to try, but then they get back into the classroom and reality hits – they have no time to do anything other than what they already know.

  • 5. tieandjeans  |  December 7, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    Suggesting that there’s something homogeneous that could be labeled as “Master’s Degrees” is as specious on Gates’ part as it is for Districts and Unions. M.Ed vs content knowledge, dedicated in-person program or slow-drip all-Blackboard, continuing education for a veteran teacher or a combined 12-month credential and MA for a 22 year old.

    Running any large system is about choosing which mediocre metric comes closest to giving the results you want. When you present an RPG-esque salary scale, of course teachers will grind units to maximize their benefit. But if you can’t see a benefit to educators staying engaged both with their subject and with teaching practice throughout their career, then I think your metrics are equally flawed.

  • 6. Briana Morrison  |  December 8, 2010 at 10:46 am

    One of the biggest problems is the type of master’s degrees teachers get…just about anything (from anywhere) will get them the pay increase. At least in Georgia they are beginning to tighten up on this ( I think the key is that getting further education *directly related to your position* would improve student outcomes.


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