Home > Uncategorized > $1,000,000,000 for Master Teachers: A Bad Idea

$1,000,000,000 for Master Teachers: A Bad Idea

July 23, 2012

Late last week there was much media fanfare over President Obama’s proposal to include $1,000,000,000 to provide $20,000 per year stipends for 10,000 “elite” teachers in science, technology, engineering and math (or STEM as the education media calls these topics). Slate reported that “…the ultimate goal that the elite group of teachers will pass their knowledge and skills on to their colleagues to help bolster the quality of teaching nationwide.”

This is a bad idea for several reasons:

  1. It assumes that STEM teachers merit a substantial pay differential based solely on the content they teach. A good Kindergarten teacher is every bit as valuable as an “elite STEM teacher”.
  2. It assumes that there is some national objective criteria that can be used to differentiate “elite” STEM teachers from “non-elite” STEM teachers. My hunch is that the USED will use student performance on some kind of standardized achievement test as the “objective basis” for identifying STEM teachers… or maybe a variant of the rubric used for National Board certification. If it is standardized tests, my guess is that with $20,000 at stake STEM teachers might teach to the test. If it is National Board Certification, see #1 above and imagine how a Board Certified elementary teacher of English teacher will feel about the STEM teacher getting $20,000.
  3. It assumes there is a mechanism in place for these “elite STEM teachers” to pass their knowledge and skills to their less elite colleagues in other districts. The notion of spreading “best practice” across diverse school districts is part of the business model for schools that has not succeeded to date. A STEM teacher in Scarsdale has access to far more technology resources that a teacher in, say, rural New Hampshire.
  4. It fails the “next dollar” test: For most of the 29 years that I worked as a Superintendent, we explicitly or implicitly invited Principals to submit proposals for programs they might launch if they were given an extra dollar to spend. In this way, we could pit an initiative against an existing practice. In those years, differentiated pay never made the list. My hunch is that if you asked 10,000 districts how they would spend an extra $100,000 that most would look at ways to intervene early with at-risk students. Paying their 5 best STEM teachers an extra $20,000 would fall to the bottom of the list unless they were losing STEM teachers to neighboring districts. Oh… and one little detail, I think virtually every school district in America would like to see full funding for Special Education before additional funds are poured on projects like this one!
  5. It seems redundant: The Slate article reported that: Republican Rep. John Kline, chairman of the House Education and the Workplace Committee, pointed out to the AP that there are already more than 80 quality teacher programs supported by the federal government. 80 might be an overstatement, but even if there are “only” 10 quality teacher programs it would be helpful to those in schools to know what they are, how they relate to each other, and why another one for STEM teachers is needed.

This proposal might excite a few businessmen and will likely garner applause when it is added to a list of education initiatives the Obama administration has championed, but it is unlikely to gain traction without answers to the questions implied in the five points listed above. I’ll be eager to hear why STEM teachers deserve more money; how “elite” STEM teachers will be identified; how this “elite” squad will transfer their knowledge; why this is the best use of another $1,000,000,000; and how this fits with the other “quality teacher programs”.

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