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EDITORIAL: It’s time to stop paying teachers for obtaining masters’ degrees

Updated January 22, 2020 - 9:56 pm

There are several ways that teachers can earn raises in the Clark County School District. Being a great teacher isn’t one of them.

That’s one of several problems with education that more money won’t fix. In the Clark County School District, the pay scale for teachers starts at $41,900 and goes to $93,000. That doesn’t include longevity pay, health benefits or generous pensions. Teachers are in the classroom for only nine or 10 months a year.

Teacher unions have a vested interest in promoting the notion that teachers are underpaid. It makes it much easier to convince the public that education is underfunded.

The median household income in Clark County is $56,800. Median pay for a teacher in the district is $56,300, according to research from Nevada Policy. That doesn’t include benefits worth around $24,000 a year either.

Defenders of the status quo will counter that teachers are more highly educated, but that their pay doesn’t reflect it. For evidence, they often trot out an annual study conducted by the Economic Policy Institute purporting to show the “teacher pay gap.” The institute asserted that the pay gap was 21.4 percent in 2018.

Writing in National Affairs, scholars Andrew Biggs and Jason Richwine issue a devastating takedown of that analysis, which should inform discussions of teacher pay. They replicate the methodology used by EPI to find that the same analysis shows that telemarketers are underpaid by 26 percent. In contrast, nurses are overpaid by 29 percent. This suggests the EPI approach is flawed.

That’s not the only problem. “In comparing teachers’ salaries and private-sector pay, educational attainment is a skewed variable because it assumes that quantity of education equals quality of education,” they write.

Union pay scales have long rewarded teachers for getting advanced degrees. But “the fact that teachers with master’s degrees are no more effective in the classroom, on average, than their colleagues without advanced degrees is one of the most consistent findings in education research,” the Urban Institute’s Matthew Chingos writes. Districts are paying teachers to jump through hoops, not to become better teachers. This may benefit the schools of education that issue these pedagogy certificates and profit off master’s degree assembly lines, but it does little for students and achievement.

The district’s professional growth system, which allows advancement for activities other than continuing education, was an attempt to fix this problem. Unfortunately, it still gives credit for earning an advanced degree, not for effectiveness.

If you’re wondering why pouring more money into Nevada’s education system won’t produce results, look at how Nevada and the nation pay teachers.

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