New Research Adds to "Master's Bump" Blowout; Time for More Performance Pay

How about a little “dog bites man” story for education policy geeks? Hey, you can’t drive the point home often enough when you’re making the case for education transformation! A new issue brief for the Manhattan Institute by Marcus Winters (now one of Colorado’s own) highlights the unsurprising but important research he conducted along with Jay Greene and Bruce Dixon:

Our study, to be published in the peer-reviewed journal Economics of Education Review, builds on two decades of research from a variety of school systems and confirms a consistent finding: external teacher credentials tell us next to nothing about how well a teacher will perform in the classroom….

As with most previous research, we found no relationship between a teacher’s earning a master’s degree, certification, or years of experience and the teacher’s classroom performance as measured by student test scores….

Our results from Florida only confirm a wide body of existing research. Not a single one of the 34 studies that used a “high-quality” methodology (i.e., methodology that accounted for previous student test scores) evaluated in a recent review of the research by Eric Hanushek and Steven Rivkin found a relationship between a teacher’s earning a master’s degree and student achievement.

34-0? If this were a football game, it would be a blowout. All but the most diehard fans would have flipped the channel or turned off the tube. It wasn’t that long ago the last time I pointed out one of these new studies to you. How long will it be before the next one comes out, and the blowout gets even worse?

As my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow has highlighted on multiple occasions, Colorado spends nearly 2 percent of its total K-12 operating dollars each year on these ineffective “master’s bumps.” A more productive use of those existing funds would be to follow the lead of the state’s other educator compensation pioneers and direct those rewards into a real, meaningful pay-for-performance system.

Harrison School District and Eagle County Schools have quit giving out automatic pay raises for credentials that don’t impact student learning. With SB 191’s educator effectiveness implementation process driving evaluation policies to be aligned more closely with performance and student academic growth, now is the time for other districts to follow their lead and do the same with compensation policies, too.

Turn off the “master’s bump” research football game, and start working for (or at least cheering on) a winning education reform team. It’s the least we can do.