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Timothy D. Slekar

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Deforming the Graduate Degree

Posted: 06/25/11 12:51 PM ET

"I actually don't want qualified teachers [ones with graduate degrees] in the classroom. I want highly effective teachers [test score manipulators] in the classroom." -- John Deasy, LAUSD Superintendent
The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) should stop compensating teachers for completing graduate-level coursework, according to a new report released by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ)... While many industries award bigger salaries to workers who have completed higher levels of education, there is no proven correlation between completing graduate classes and being a highly effective teacher. -- Huffington Post


Who knew that when teachers earn graduate degrees there is no guarantee that their students' test scores will go up? And according to NCTQ, this is an "evidence based" finding. In other words, public schools should not use taxpayers' money to reimburse teachers for pursuing a graduate degree. It's just not worth the money when the correlation coefficient is so low. Gerald Bracey we need you now!

For those that forgot stat 101, correlation does not mean causation. Example: If you take a sample of people involved in automobile accidents on their way to work and ask the sample if they had breakfast and then checked the correlation between eating breakfast and automobile accidents -- it would be through the roof. But what does this mean? Nothing from a cause and effect stand point. Eating breakfast does not cause car accidents -- period. Remember, correlation does not mean causation. However, this simple statistical rule doesn't seem to matter to the reformers. Remember, the reformers actually want to degrade the profession of teaching and dismantle public schools.

How about a small dose of reality? Graduate degrees were not designed to improve test scores. Back when we believed education was supposed to help children understand their world and learn how to thrive in an imperfect democracy, we also believed that a teacher who earned a graduate degree would be better prepared to serve this purpose. Now that the reformers have somehow convinced the public that schools are failing and that only higher test scores and teachers that are capable of elevating test scores are of value, of course that must mean that graduate degrees are a waste of "limited" resources.

But wait! What about the latest research that demonstrates high test scores are probably more of an indicator that children are actually losing ground educationally?

"So what?" I imagine the reformers, LAUSD and the NCTQ saying. They all believe in standardized tests and a heavy test-prep focus in classrooms. It allows them to blame teachers for failing to bring up test scores and it allows them to push policy positions that will dismantle public education in America.

Also, as long as a simple reliance on standardized test scores dominates discussions of teacher effectiveness, the reformers will make so-called "evidence-based" claims that graduate degrees are a waste of money and continue to push an anti-teacher narrative. This narrative de-professionalizes teaching, reduces wages, and eventually turns teaching into low skilled labor. Also, John Thompson recently revealed, NCTQ's use of sketchy "evidence" in producing the report that LAUSD is using to de-fund graduate degrees for teachers.


A powerful graduate degree provides time for deep reflection about issues such as diversity, ELLs, and the socio-economic status of children. It pushes a teacher to examine the different teaching and learning contexts. This professional degree was never intended to bring up test scores. However, I have a feeling that the real reason the reformers want to do away with graduate degrees has more to do with the fact that if done well, a graduate degree might actually help teachers understand the teacher de-professionalization narrative and provide them with the intellectual tools needed to expose and organize in an effort to change the narrative. And, maybe even more horrible, they might read something from Gerald Bracey or worse -- Diane Ravitch.

In summary, graduate degrees and test scores don't correlate highly -- so what?

 

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