Thursday, December 2, 2010

Like kicking a beehive . . .

A couple weeks ago Secretary Duncan and Bill Gates made the news by supporting economists calling for the end to teacher bonuses for master degrees. The claim is that research has shown over time that there is no connection between the master degree and increased student achievement.

In an article in the Huffington Post we hear from Gates and Duncan.

Duncan told the American Enterprise Institute on Wednesday that master's degree bonuses are an example of spending money on something that doesn't work.

On Friday, billionaire Bill Gates took aim at school budgets and the master's degree bonus.

"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," he said.

"And that's one state," said Gates, the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, at a speech Friday in Louisville to the Council of Chief State School Officers. Gates also took aim at pensions and seniority.

"Of course, restructuring pay systems is like kicking a beehive," he acknowledged.

From the article, we also learn that in a study of fifteen states coming out of the University of Washington, master’s degree bonuses amounted to between 2% and 3% of total education spending. Given this, doing away with the bonus will not have a significant impact on education spending; something the economists and Duncan suggest is necessary and possible given the current economic situation of most states.

So, what do we do with this information? It is clear that successful systems use research and data to inform their decisions and that they are focused with a laser like beam on instruction for increased student achievement. If there is no connection between the bonus and student achievement, should we continue to operate as Juke’s would suggest ttwwadi (that’s the way we always did it) or should we be exploring other options? When and how do we pick and choose what research will influence our work and the decisions that we make to support success for all young people?

There is certainly much turmoil and uncertainty in the current education environment and this just adds to those finding fault. Research reports, articles, and influential people continue to suggest that public schools are not preparing young people for the future and that we need charters and more competition to force us to change. I don’t believe this to be true or necessary given our current reality, but it does concern me that there is data such as the master’s findings that we don’t consider as we continue our journey.

Might there be a better way to use this compensation that research would show does support increased achievement? I don’t see the motivation for change being a cost saving measure; it would be more of aligning salary with learning and increased knowledge and skill that is directly linked with achievement, the major component of our purpose for being. Remember, we still have the capacity at the local level to determine what success is, how it is measured, and how we use the data.  The external measures forced on our students should be a byproduct of the work that we do, not the driver for all that we do. 

So many opportunities for study and so much information to influence our choices.  Finding the leverage to maximize the use of our resources to increase student achievement should be driven by research.  Is the master degree issue leverage for us at this time?  No, I don't believe that it is, though it would be interesting to pursue as a topic for future consideration.  Leverage for us is implementing research based practices and learning from them in our school environments something that we are doing as we focus on three of the Classroom 10 characteristics; making key content visual, active learning, and checks for understanding.  Collecting data to determine the impacts on achievement is a necessary component of this work.

More on this topic to come in future posts.

1 comment:

Stacy said...

Well... Mr. Gates is right. That is a lot of money spent. However, for most teachers that have to PAY for the master's degree in the first place, on average it is 30 to 35K for most programs. The measly 11K bump amounts to a few hundred dollars extra in the salary, usually enough to pay monthly student loans bill and that is all. WHICH means that the teacher who receives the raise will not actually see the 11k raise until the loan is paid in full, on average is 10 years for a student loan.
Let's also NOT forget that to keep our certification we are REQUIRED to take classes and keep current. Which WE are pay for, most of the time, thank you for our clock hours Mike. :) But for others new to teaching I am not sure if the clock hours count towards the cert renewal.
Mr. Gates has not done his homework. I agree the funding issue needs to be addressed, but taking away another VERY small perk will not help our field, rather it will hurt it even more.
I am not sure who made the study, but I have heard that for every ONE teacher there are 5 administrators in Olympia that are NOT in contact with children. Let's start there! I am sure we can lose a few postions! But it goes back to the ttwaddi statement, and NO one wants to lose their job. So we find ourselves once again in the cycle of who to blame. Which is usually the teachers.
I have a young cousin who very much wanted to be a teacher from the time she was young, she enrolled in an exclusive private college and was told by her father NOT to persue education because of the pay and the problems surrounding the field. She listened. Which is sad...