Bill Gates and the Public Schools Pay Structure

This week Bill Gates and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan argued for merit-based rewards for public school teachers, and criticized a system which gives automatic pay increases to teachers who have earned master’s degrees in education, regardless of how it improves teachers’ abilities.

Obviously teachers’ unions are concerned about the criticism as their task is to protect teachers’ interests and welfare. What I see missing in the debate is the question of what drives education institutions to reward master’s degree candidates in the first place?

My assumption is that there is a wide variety of young teaching candidates coming out of four year universities across the country. Some of these candidates may not have had education as their primary focus of study. A master’s degree in education would help solidify their training and make them stand out in a crowded job market.

Additionally, teachers are chronically underpaid. A two year master’s program that can be done at night and on the weekends may be a good investment for most teachers who want to get paid a reasonable wage for their work.

Gates and Duncan are probably right that for our public education system to be successful there needs to be an emphasis on merit-based performance rewards, although determining the nature and structure of such rewards is a thorny issue.

But, what is missing in this recent discussion is an interrogation of why this problem exists in the first place. We need to determine what pressures are causing school districts to reward master’s degree trained teachers more, regardless of experience or ability.

If master’s programs aren’t turning out better candidates, why are districts rewarding them? If master’s programs ARE turning out better candidates, then what is wrong with our bachelor’s degree system for teachers that is turning out sub-par candidates?


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