Teacher Compensation – “Bumps”

Apropos to our discussion at the Board meeting on teacher compensation there is an article co-authored by UW’s Marguerite Roza (link below) that makes the case that there is currently a national imbalance between the amount of money we spend subsidizing masters degrees, and the effect those masters degrees have on the quality of instruction in classrooms.  I commend it for your read.  But I want to add another dimension I think the article missed (or more likely, just didn’t explicitly address), and that is the effect of ‘credit’ bumps.   Indeed, as you will see in the chart I have inserted below, most of the pay subsidy in this state is not associated with degrees at all.  Its associated with credits.

What you see below is a two-part chart.  To the left, you have the actual state teacher salary guide (I have struck through the BA+135 column for this analysis because although certain teachers were grandfathered in, the state doesn’t utilize that step going forward).  To the right, you have some analysis I have provided.  The numbers to the right show how much each step is worth in dollars, and then the total compensation bump between degrees.  And at the very bottom, you will see I have inserted a line showing “average pay bump, by step”

This reveals some interesting things.  For one, if you assume that we spend most of our money on compensating degrees, technically that assumption is wrong.  Here are some examples.  The average (unweighted) salary bump from BA to MA is worth $6624 (see very bottom – in red) but a teacher could, in theory, get $6280 of that (over 94%), on average, simply by accumulating 90 credits after their BA degree and never actually achieving their MA.

A similar story is told at the more advanced levels.  The average salary bump from MA to PhD is $5,441 (see bottom right, in red).  But again, a teacher could achieve all of that even if they never actually achieve their EdD or Phd.  Why?  Because PhD’s, for the purposes of the salary guide, are treated as equivalent with MA+90 credits (see orange cell).

The theme here is that we really actually don’t emphasize degrees that much at all.  Setting aside years of experience for the moment, the financial subsidy is mostly on accumulation of credits, which may or may not contribute to the achievement of an actual degree, and, as the research shows, probably doesn’t contribute to the quality of instruction in classrooms.

And there’s more.  Individuals who achieve masters degrees which require more than 45 credits can have those credits counted toward the MA+ columns.   You received a master’s degree which required 70 credits, whereas your neighbor’s masters only required 45?  Then you get ‘credited’, if you will, and you are already at MA + 25 (your 70, minus the base 45 requirement), well on your way to the MA + 45 step, which happens to be an unusually lucrative one.  The overall picture that’s painted, in my opinion, is of a state basically ‘tripping over itself’ to compensate credits, something for which there is virtually no empirical research evidence to support.

So degrees are one thing, but the accumulation of credits (that we aggressively incentivize) is quite another.  I have always felt like that is the part of the state budget where the story has been least effectively told.  This is one of the largest investments the state makes, and yet it is almost completely misaligned with any credible plan to close the achievement gap.  But the practice persists.

I feel that this area of the budget is ripe for reform.

Ben Rarick

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