A “Master’s” pay despite no relationship to achievement

Patrick Gibbons

In the Clark County School District (CCSD), teachers with a master's degree earn an extra $5,655 annually, while teachers who also have an advanced certification receive $8,845 more. Nationwide, most school district contracts provide higher salaries based on extra coursework and advanced degrees. Indeed, it is estimated that about half of all teachers in the United States have such an advanced degree.

Applying that estimate to Nevada would suggest that CCSD each year spends approximately $51 million paying teachers extra for having obtained a master's degree. But does this extra spending produce results or simply waste taxpayer money?

Eric Hanushek, of Stanford University, and Steven Rivkin, writing in the 2006 edition of the Handbook on the Economics of Education, cite the "most … remarkable … finding" from numerous studies "that a master's degree has no systematic relationship to teacher quality as measured by student outcomes" (page 11 of the article, "Teacher Quality"). Advanced degrees are not likely to increase the quality of the teaching and, more importantly, there is no evidence that they increase student achievement.

This suggests that the Clark County district is simply wasting about $51 million each year. Instead of cutting all teacher salaries by 6 percent (and angering all teachers), Nevada should end these additional payments for advanced degrees and certifications and substitute a merit-pay system that rewards teachers for measurable improvements in individual student achievement.

It is hardly fair to cut all teachers' salaries equally, considering the fact that some teachers make considerably more while providing no extra benefit to their students. The fairest way to make the budget reduction would be to eliminate this waste.

Doing so statewide would save an estimated $72 million a year. Then, when the state economy recovers, the current, rigid pay grid should be replaced with merit pay, a system that actually rewards high-quality teachers, and schools, for their efforts.