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Tess Vigeland: Teaching is one of those professions you can safely say no one goes into for the money. One way some teachers boost their modest paychecks is by going back to school. Most school districts pay some kind of bonus if you have a master's degree. But as Marketplace's Amy Scott reports from the education desk at WYPR in Baltimore, lately some pretty prominent folks have been calling for an end to that practice.
Amy Scott: People like Bill Gates and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Here's Duncan speaking at the American Enterprise Institute last week.
Arne Duncan: Districts today currently pay about $8 billion every year. $8 billion every single year to teachers, because they have a master's degree -- even though there's little evidence that teachers with master's degrees improve student achievement more than any other teacher.
With the possible exception, Duncan says, of degrees in math and science -- and that $8 billion doesn't include the cost of those degrees. A lot of school districts pay some or all of the tuition. Some districts are already making changes. Last week, teachers in Baltimore approved a new contract that ends automatic pay increases for advanced degrees. Most of these master's are in education, not science or history.
Eric Hanushek is an education economist with the Hoover Institution at Stanford. He says quick-and-easy master's are a cash cow for many education schools.
Eric Hanushek: If I were an education school that made a huge amount of revenue from selling master's degrees, I would be worried.
One school that could feel the fallout is the College of Notre Dame of Maryland in Baltimore. The campus was already deserted for the holiday this morning. But more than 800 teachers are pursuing advanced degrees here. Under the old Baltimore contract, a teacher with 10 years experience could make about $8,000 more a year with a master's degree.
Sister Sharon Slear is dean of the School of Education. Even without that bump in pay, she says a master's in education has value.
Sharon Slear: The same way for a physician, when they go to medical school, it helps them to become a better physician. They don't just stop at the bachelor's level.
Arthur Levine is former president of Teachers College in New York. He says teachers should be encouraged to keep learning.
Arthur Levine: It's a matter of studying those subjects that are going to be able to enhance student achievement. And there's nothing intrinsic to earning a master's degree in any subject that would make that happen.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan favors paying teachers based on their performance in the classroom, but Levine says that may still be too controversial.
In Baltimore, I'm Amy Scott for Marketplace.
Vigeland: In the interest of full disclosure, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation financially supports the Marketplace Education Desk.