2010 November 25 Thursday
Masters Degrees Do Not Improve Teacher Performance

Nearly half of all teachers get masters degrees in order to get paid more. But an Associated Press article by Donna Gordon Blankinship reports many researchers have confirmed no benefit for students from teachers with masters degrees. The article relays what economists want to do to improve education. My guess is if the economists get their way with policy changes educational outcomes still won't improve much.

SEATTLE (AP) ó Every year, American schools pay more than $8.6 billion in bonuses to teachers with masterís degrees, even though the idea that a higher degree makes a teacher more effective has been mostly debunked.

Despite more than a decade of research showing the money has little impact on student achievement, state lawmakers and other officials have been reluctant to tackle this popular way for teachers to earn more money.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Bill Gates agree with the researchers who find that teachers with master's degrees do not better in classrooms. It is interesting to note that 90+% of those masters are in education. So basically what gets taught in Ed grad schools is worthless.

I wonder about the other 10% of grad degrees though. Would, say, people smart enough to get a grad degree in math or physics do a better job teaching? Might help for high school teachers teaching smarter college-bound students. A masters degree in a hard subject could be used a proxy that filters for smarter teachers without a direct admissions that such a thing as an innately smarter teacher actually exists.

The article brings up the idea of rewarding teachers based on performance. The problem is how to measure performance? A rational scientific approach based on psychometric research would measure innate abilities of students and then see how well students do based on how well they are capable of doing. But such an approach is anathema to the education establishment that still wants to treat all students as blank slates capable of being molded into college material.

If use of IQ remains taboo for teacher performance measurements then the only possibly workable alternative would involve a proxy for IQ that is sold as adjusting for deprived backgrounds. But adjustment of student performance expectations based on supposed deprivation clashes with the desire to make all students do great. So I see poor odds for implementing objective and fair teacher performance measurements. Until the Educrats want to fess up that innate intellectual abilities vary enormously new education policies will continue to be unrealistic and ineffective.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2010 November 25 02:24 PM  Education Incentives


Comments
Stephen said at November 25, 2010 3:16 PM:

The problem is that people who do hard science degrees do not tend to be the kind of people who want to teach children. I also think that IQ isn't a big advantage for teachers who teach children, in fact it might well be an alienating disadvantage.

It seems to me that average IQ + good general knowledge + an ability to communicate at the necessary level + empathy = good teacher

A.M. said at November 25, 2010 4:20 PM:

"The problem is that people who do hard science degrees do not tend to be the kind of people who want to teach children."

False. There are people with math and science backgrounds who would like to teach. My high school math teacher was a U. Chicago trained aerospace engineer, and he was very satisfied teaching. But in order to teach in public schools, a specialized (and worthless) teaching credential is required. Having to put your life on hold to get a credential doesn't exactly promote crossover. Maybe you'd have to pay the STEMs more to get enough of them teaching, maybe not; but we can at least make the transition possible and easier. The easier the transition, all else equal, the more STEMs will come. That's exactly what the unions don't want.

In my experience, women are especially susceptible to getting burned out and wanting to teach kids instead. Especially if they drop out of a STEM career and find their skills out of date, but they still know Laplace transforms from Lagrange multipliers.

"Would, say, people smart enough to get a grad degree in math or physics do a better job teaching?"
Not to mention, if they are smart enough, will actually getting a master's make them a better teacher? Does knowing quantum physics make you a better kinematics teacher? Enough to be worth the cost? I think the answer is no, on all counts. Divorcing ability from credentials is vital.

Randall, Gates & Co. might not be averse to such an idea. They just wouldn't understand it as IQ. Nor should it be presented as such. "Ability-Adjusted Performance" or some such thing. For example, people seem to think the SAT does measure something relevant, but if you dare call it IQ, they will fiercely protest.

Audacious Epigone said at November 25, 2010 6:44 PM:

The Master's premium is a double boon for the education racket--more money for academia when teachers and aspiring teachers go to get their graduate degrees and more money for primary education in the way of higher salaries and bonuses for these teachers.

Mike said at November 26, 2010 12:48 AM:

"The problem is how to measure performance?"

Money. People are willing to pay for what they perceive as value. There's no reason education shouldn't be a market place. Teachers ought to be professionals, similar to doctors or lawyers. The good ones, teaching the right stuff will do dandy. Basically, large government is in the way and produces education like communist Russia produced steel. And, there's nothing to stop those that want community schools from providing community schools, just let folks opt out of awful school systems altogether.

TangoMan said at November 26, 2010 2:06 PM:

I also think that IQ isn't a big advantage for teachers who teach children, in fact it might well be an alienating disadvantage.

I think that you speak to part of the problem when you link teacher IQ to alienation, in that we know that most social ties between people don't traverse large IQ gaps, so this might be at work. That said though, a teacher with higher IQ is better able to analyze what is going on in the classroom and, when they have the freedom to do so, they can anticipate and out-think their students. I can't imagine a typical teacher being able to teach binary math to 3rd graders through the use of socratic dialog because this requires being able to analyze logic traps that the students have fallen into, crafting questions on the fly which lead the student to extract themselves from the dead end that they've taken, etc.

The following is a transcript of a teaching experiment, using the Socratic method, with a regular third grade class in a suburban elementary school. I present my perspective and views on the session, and on the Socratic method as a teaching tool, following the transcript. The class was conducted on a Friday afternoon beginning at 1:30, late in May, with about two weeks left in the school year. This time was purposely chosen as one of the most difficult times to entice and hold these children's concentration about a somewhat complex intellectual matter. The point was to demonstrate the power of the Socratic method for both teaching and also for getting students involved and excited about the material being taught. There were 22 students in the class. I was told ahead of time by two different teachers (not the classroom teacher) that only a couple of students would be able to understand and follow what I would be presenting. When the class period ended, I and the classroom teacher believed that at least 19 of the 22 students had fully and excitedly participated and absorbed the entire material. The three other students' eyes were glazed over from the very beginning, and they did not seem to be involved in the class at all. The students' answers below are in capital letters.

Yes, I understand that socratic method is not widely used in grammar school, or high school for that matter, and so the question essentially boils down to whether IQ is beneficial to the practice of teaching via standardized teaching methods. I'd argue that there is some benefit but it's probably small. The benefit arises from a higher IQ teacher being able to recognize a problem or a solution that eludes the notice of a lower IQ teacher.

Jerry Martinson said at November 27, 2010 2:45 AM:

Not much of a surprise if you measure teacher performance using a traditional academic-focused test.

If you look at what most masters in education degrees consist of:

http://education.ucsc.edu/academic_programs/masters/

you'll see that it's closer to a Rage Against the Machine rant than anything that's likely to produce test score gains.

Using the "socratic method" might be nice but what good is the socratic method without socrates... and plato-like kids as the students?

Randall Parker said at November 27, 2010 5:45 PM:

TangoMan,

Since smart people are rather in short supply I think they shouldn't be wasted teaching the average student. The average student isn't going to accomplish much regardless of how taught. The research on Directed Instruction suggests that teachers can just read a script to most children and the result will be an improvement over today's schools.

TangoMan said at November 27, 2010 8:16 PM:

Since smart people are rather in short supply I think they shouldn't be wasted teaching the average student. The average student isn't going to accomplish much regardless of how taught. The research on Directed Instruction suggests that teachers can just read a script to most children and the result will be an improvement over today's schools.

I agree. I've long been on the DI bandwagon. The intent behind my post was to illustrate what a smart teacher could achieve by actually using his intelligence. No, putting smart people into public school classrooms is not the best use of intellectual talent, especially when coupled with the requirements of the school work environment/rules.

Anonymous said at December 6, 2010 10:53 PM:

Money makes the man.
Make teacher's the highest salary in the country, and you'll have the best teachers. Then you'll have the best students. For students are part gene, part environment. Best students become even better teachers and better workers (all types). Better workers: Better economy.
If you don't believe it: Correlate this to what happened in Germany and Japan after world war II. (also WWI for Germany)

Sarah said at December 17, 2010 1:50 PM:

Teaching is such a selfless career that educators ought to be able to make more. One benefit that comes to mind with a master's degree in education is that it can help teachers changeover from a teaching career to a school administration career.


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