Professional Learning Deserves Professional Pay


by Tim Walker, excerpted from an article on

The recently released 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP),a periodic review of test results among elementary and secondary students in the United States, contained an interesting nugget. It suggests that, contrary to most of the recent research, having a teacher with an advanced degree is associated with higher student achievement. According to the report, students in grades 4 and 8 whose teacher held a master’s degree scored higher on NAEP reading than students who were taught by teachers with no more than a bachelor’s degree. And it’s not just a statistical blip – the previous four NAEP reading assessments dating back to 2005 revealed the same finding. This finding is also noteworthy because most studies that have found a relationship between teachers’ advanced degrees and student achievement were in secondary mathematics, not in elementary reading.

You can bet this trend identified by NAEP won’t be publicized by many so-called education “reformers” who have targeted pay differentials for teachers with advanced degrees as pretty much a waste of money. They question whether such policies should be continued at a time when schools are working under tightened budgets and tasked with better aligning resources with student achievement.

One prominent critic is Microsoft co-founder and chairman Bill Gates. In an op-ed in The Washington Post last March, Gates confidently declared “such raises have almost no impact on achievement.”

While the NAEP’s Report Card and a host of other studies suggest otherwise, the available research is generally mixed and fairly limited in scope. Still, Gates and other opponents of pay differentials for teachers with masters degrees are cherry-picking data to support a claim that much of the available research doesn’t support and, by merely calling for the elimination of salary raises, are relying on yet another simplistic solution for a complex issue.

The National Education Association (NEA) believes that attaining advanced degrees professionalize teaching as a career and should be recognized as a form of professional development that improves a practitioner’s skill and knowledge to improve student learning.

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