Tar Heel Money Saver: No More Teacher Raises for Master’s Degrees

by Christopher Paslay

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory decides the best way to improve public education in the Tar Heel State is to pay teachers less.   

I have a master’s degree in Multicultural Education from Eastern University (cost me $25,000, and this wasn’t reimbursed by the Philadelphia School District), and I will soon have a PA secondary school counseling certificate from Eastern as well (cost me another $25,000, also not refunded by the PSD).  These advanced degrees not only cost a ton of money, but took up a ton of my time (I’ve been attending Eastern part time since 2008).

Have these degrees improved my teaching?  Absolutely.  I have more knowledge, ideas, contacts, hands-on lessons, classroom activities, and overall expertise in regards to both my teaching and counseling than I would have if I’d stayed within the comfort zone of my classroom and not branched out and furthered my education.

Tragically, there is a movement to end pay raises for educators seeking to learn new skills and broaden their educational repertoire.  Although this movement claims to have the best interest of public school students in mind, it seems there is also an ulterior motive behind it: saving money and balancing budgets.

Consider this recent article from the Wall Street Journal:

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, signed a budget bill Friday that eliminates teacher tenure and—in a rare move—gets rid of the automatic pay increase teachers receive for earning a master’s degree.

The legislation targets a compensation mechanism that is common in the U.S., where teachers receive automatic pay increases for years of service and advanced degrees. Some research has suggested those advanced degrees don’t lead to improved teaching.

Gov. Pat McCrory, shown earlier this month, said in a statement that the 2013-2015 budget ‘maintains public investments in education.’

Although a few other states have talked about doing away with the automatic pay increase for advanced degrees, experts say North Carolina is believed to be the first state to do so.

The budget bill—which drew hundreds of teachers to the Capitol in protest earlier this week—also eliminates tenure for elementary and high-school teachers and freezes teacher salaries for the fifth time in six years.

It comes as states and districts across the country are revamping teacher evaluations, salaries and job security, and linking them more closely to student performance. These changes have been propelled, in part, by the Obama administration and GOP governors.

North Carolina’s $20.6 billion budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 was crafted by Republican lawmakers and came after the GOP gained control of both legislative chambers and the governor’s office for the first time in 144 years.

Mr. McCrory said in a statement that the 2013-2015 budget “maintains public investments in education” and other services and noted 56% will go toward K-12 and higher education—1% more than in the previous budget.

Tim Barnsback, a teacher at Heritage Middle School in Valdese, N.C., said, “Morale is going to be at an all-time low” due to the new policies and budget. “The best and the brightest aren’t going to go into the profession,” he added.

Sandi Jacobs, with the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonprofit that advocates an overhaul to teacher evaluation and pay structures, said she doesn’t oppose teachers having advanced degrees, but that those degrees shouldn’t be the primary driver of salary increases, which she said should be based more on actual performance.

A number of studies have shown that teachers with advanced degrees don’t, necessarily, produce higher student achievement than teachers who hold only a bachelor’s. Other studies have shown an advantage to holding a master’s in math and the sciences for high-school teachers. About 28% of North Carolina teachers hold master’s degrees.

A 2012 study by a researcher from the University of Washington’s College of Education found that the nation spent about $14.8 billion on the master’s bump for teachers in the 2007-2008 school year.

Is this about saving money?  Absolutely.  A $14.8 billion savings.

Advice to educators seeking to broaden their skills and knowledge via advanced degrees: Stay away from the Tar Heel State.  Your investment is sure to go bust.