'Master'-ing Compensation for Michigan Teachers

A new report by the left-leaning Center for American Progress estimates that Michigan’s public schools spend about $470 million annually to provide automatic higher pay for teachers who obtain master’s degrees. Nationally, taxpayers supply $15 billion a year for this perk.

With the exceptions of science and math, teachers with master’s degrees, the study reports, “are no more effective, on average, than their counterparts without master’s degrees.”

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The average master’s pay premium in Michigan was the 7th largest in the nation at $7,600, according to the study. This cost $277 per student, 12th highest nationally. Around 63 percent of teachers in the state currently have master’s degrees, the 7th highest in the nation.

The research is clear that these extra academic credentials do not lead to better outcomes for students. Instead of rewarding teachers for performing in college classrooms, schools should reward them for performing in their own classrooms. Some districts are moving in this direction, and state reforms passed last year require schools to consider effectiveness when making personnel decisions.

But Michigan could do more to help districts move away from factory-type pay scales, and instead adopt flexible, modern, merit-based compensation systems. For instance, by requiring public school teachers to complete postgraduate course work to maintain a state-mandated certification, current law essentially forces them to pursue these ineffectual master’s degrees. This is costly for both teachers and taxpayers.

The Legislature is now considering legislation that would do away with these useless mandates. Not surprisingly, the loudest critics of this reform are the mandate’s greatest beneficiary: colleges and universities. Government “continuing education” mandates ensure they get a guaranteed revenue stream, so policymakers should take their complaints with a grain of salt.

Schools should abandon obsolete teacher pay scales that only reward years on the job and accumulated pedagogical degrees. Teacher compensation should be modernized with flexible and differentiated pay that rewards high performance.

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