Teacher master's degrees

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal highlights the debate over whether wage increases for primary and secondary school teachers should be based on the length of their teaching career and their personal level of education or on students’ academic performances.

Some critics, like Thomas J. Kane — an economist at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and director for the Center for Education Policy Research — argue that schools should provide salary increases based on student academic achievements, rather than solely on their educators’ academic degrees or time spent teaching. These critics are completely right, but until accurate measures of student abilities can be generated, a delicate balance between teacher qualifications and student performance must be struck when determining educators’ salaries.

Basing teacher salary increases on student performance is intended to reward those teachers truly dedicated to their students’ learning, but may, in reality, reward those who teach to the test.

If schools choose to base their pay-raise standards upon state assessments, they may not accurately determine educators’ performances. These tests are important for measuring basic abilities, but they do not often match up with curriculum offered by teachers. Many state tests that have arisen from the No Child Left Behind Act, like the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, are geared toward ensuring that all students reach a certain bar but are unconcerned with how far above the bar students go.

Educators teaching academically rigorous courses, therefore, may not be evaluated correctly, since they often cannot teach to the test, and their students are not tested in relation to their potentials.

Furthermore, relying less on degrees to determine pay increases may deter educators from obtaining these degrees. In an academic setting, where the goal is to constantly learn, educators cannot be the exception. Just like students, teachers must continue their education. Admittedly, teachers are encouraged to complete Continuing Education programs throughout their time as educators. Why stop at Continuing Education programs, though? If educators have the resources to enroll in master’s programs, they should be encouraged by their school districts to do so. Basing pay raises significantly less on the attainment of master’s degrees may effectively remove encouragement that districts previously offered.

The ways in which educators are evaluated in relation to student performance may be too broad to provide accurate benchmarks for teachers. However, if evaluations become more specific to the material that individual educators teach, then they should be relied upon. Until then, other factors — like the amount of time teachers spend educating and the degrees they attain — should play prominent roles when determining pay increases.