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Master's Degree Bump: States Nationwide Spent Nearly $15 Billion In 2007-2008 Paying Teachers With Advanced Degrees

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States across the nation spent $14.8 billion on the so-called master’s degree bump -- compensating teachers who hold advanced degrees with additional salary or stipends -- in 2007-08, according to a report released Tuesday by the Center for American Progress.

This represents a 72 percent increase from 2003-04, when nearly $8.6 billion was spent on master’s bumps. The surge is conceivable given steep increases in school budgets during the four-year period combined with the growth of online providers of master’s degrees.

The average master’s bump for the 2007-08 school year ranged from $2,010 in Utah -- or $39 per pupil -- to more than $10,000 in Washington, D.C., Illinois and Minnesota. Spending on master’s bumps exceeded $400 per pupil in Connecticut, Minnesota, Rhode Island, New York, Vermont and Illinois.

According to the report, the five states with the highest portion of teachers holding master’s degrees are New York (88 percent), Connecticut (81 percent), Kentucky (79 percent), Massachusetts (69 percent), and Washington (69 percent). But their average master’s bumps fall between $4,890 and $7,426, which puts them in the middle of the pack.

Twenty-four states have policies in place that promote teachers’ acquisition of master’s degrees. Of those, 16 require extra pay for having an advanced degree, while the remaining eight require an advanced degree for full professional licensure.

Reagen Miller and Marguerite Roza, the report’s co-authors, write that teachers holding advanced degrees are no more effective, on average, than their counterparts without master’s degrees.

“The more nuanced evidence suggests that master’s degrees in math and science do confer an instructional advantage on teachers of those subjects, yet approximately 90 percent of the master’s degrees held by teachers come from education programs that tend to be unrelated to or unconcerned with instructional efficacy,” the report reads.

Miller and Roza propose in their report that state policymakers eradicate policies that require differential pay for teachers with advanced degrees, or mandate advanced degrees in order to remain in the profession.

Other recommendations include:

• In districts where the master’s bump takes the form of an annual stipend sitting on top of a teacher’s salary, rather than increasing stipends in conjunction with cost of living increases, districts should avoid directing new resources towards them.

• In districts where the master’s bump has penetrated the salary schedule, districts should create different salary schedules for new teaching hires that are neutral with respect to master’s degrees while grandfathering the master’s bump of existing teachers.

The analysis relied on data from the 2007-08 Schools and Staffing Survey from the National Center for Education Statistics, and the National Educators Association’s 2008-09 Salary Survey.

In Florida, a controversial state law limits how new teachers may receive bonus pay based on advanced degrees. Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, one of the law's co-authors, says the Student Success Act of 2011 was designed to incentivize teachers to focus on student results, and includes not compensating teachers for advanced degrees that do not directly translate to student learning.

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