The following is my reaction to an Education Week article, States' Costs Skyrocket on Master's Degree Pay for Teachers by Stephen Sawchuk on July 17, 2012. The narrative is familiar: master’s degrees add no value in terms of student test scores, therefore, they represent the misappropriation of resources. Read the original, then cool your jets:
Let's flip this and consider the single salary schedule for what it is: a deferred compensation system. It is not that senior teachers with advanced degrees are overpaid, but rather that beginning teachers are underpaid, unless you count the IOU represented by that top level salary twenty years in the future plus the pension. The highest paid teachers are being paid for their work, plus an amount representing work they performed many years before. Retired teachers are paid entirely for services rendered in the past.
Since single salary schedules contain both steps and columns, master’s degrees, and arrangements which subsidize them, represent a mechanism for states and localities to control the pace that individuals move across the schedule towards those top level salaries. In other words, requirements for advanced education string people along and allow the polity to delay the day which it has to pay professional salaries.
Rather than pull deferred compensation from the future into the present, while honoring current commitments, political expediency leads to attacks on the single salary schedule itself, including masters degrees, pensions, and tenure, the glue which gives deferred compensation legitimacy. A social contract is being broken, without recompense, with the people charged with caring for our children. Our nation is morally debased as a result.
The real problem with master’s degrees is that they are driven by an economic arrangement, rather than an educational one. Many teachers do use them as an opportunity to improve their practice. Perhaps the imperfections of advanced degrees stem from not really being intended for this purpose. The real focus is on delaying payment for services rendered, with the added bonus of being able to walk away from the deal when the debts become inconvenient.