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Can Someone Help Me Understand this Third Way on Masters Bumps?

It’s been awhile, but one of my favorite K-12 topics to share with you is the need to change the practice of automatic pay raises for master’s degrees. As recently as 2011, the high-quality research was unanimous (34-0) on the ineffectiveness of awarding teachers masters degrees. As recently as last month, it remains “one of the most consistent findings in education research.”

That’s why I rejoiced when North Carolina followed the example of a couple forward-thinking Colorado school districts and sent “masters bumps” the way of the dodo bird. The commonsense reform crosses partisan and ideological boundaries.

But, as the Associated Press now reports, the Tar Heel State is taking a second look even as momentum grows in other states:

More than half of the nation’s teachers have master’s degrees or higher, but the changing salary structure is giving pause to others considering the same path. Texas’ two largest school districts, in Houston and Dallas, recently eliminated advanced degree pay going forward, following the example of North Carolina, where lawmakers last year started phasing it out. A few other states have made tweaks to reduce how much advanced degrees factor into pay.

Later in the story, AP reporter Jamie Stengle notes that “the backlash in North Carolina grew so intense that the state is now looking at reinstating the extra pay for those teaching classes related to the subject in which they have an advanced degree.” So, apparently, the masters bump would be OK if you’re a history teacher and you get a masters in history. What about elementary education or P.E.?

I’d be curious to see the exact details of how that works. On the surface, that approach certainly seems more sensible. The subject of the degree should matter. But getting beyond that, all masters degrees are not created equal. So where is the research on that?

The research picture is sort of alluded to near the end of the AP story:

While opponents of the pay perks point to studies that show the advanced degrees don’t make teachers more effective, Gary Henry, an education researcher with Vanderbilt University, says many show mixed results, with effectiveness proven in one subject matter but not others.

That leads me to close with a couple sincere questions. First, can someone point me to these studies that show “mixed results” based on different “subject matter” (as well as any places that have such policies)? There’s no doubt I just could have missed them along the line, but this reference from Mr. Henry is the first I’ve seen among all the various smart people who have covered this topic.

Second: In the end, though, wouldn’t it just make more sense to shift the incentive to an output basis? Give out the extra compensation based on teacher performance and their impact adding value to student learning. If the right kind of masters degree helps a professional educator achieve those important goals, then there would be reason to invest and act accordingly.

Thanks for the conversation.