Teacher Bonuses a Waste of School Budget $$$, Say Bill Gates & Arne Duncan

Does a master’s degree and, in particular, an M.Ed., really mean that a teacher is a ‘master’ of what he or she does, teach?

In a speech at an American Enterprise Institute forum back in November, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, that state and local governments ought to reconsider their policies of granting pay raises to teachers with master’s degrees ‘because evidence suggests that the degree alone does not improve student achievement.’  Philanthropist Bill Gates has also suggested that bonuses for teachers with master’s degrees are pretty much a waste of money—-just the thing to cut at a time when so many school districts are straining to balance their budgets.

According to a November article in KOMONews (Seattle), 48 percent of public school teachers in the had a master’s degree or above in 2008. Moreover, almost every one of these teachers received a bonus of between $1,423 and $10,777 each year, according to research from the University of Washington. This amounts to more than $8.6 billion in bonuses to teachers with master’s degrees. 

90 percent of those degrees are in education, rather than in specific subject areas such as English, according to a study by Marguerite Roza and Raegen Miller for the Center on Reinventing Education at the University of Washington. Research done in 1997 by their colleague Dan Goldhaber has ‘shown that students of teachers with master’s degrees show no better progress in student achievement than their peers taught by teachers without advanced degrees.’ Repeated studies have shown the same results.

Over at EdWeek there’s a discussion going on about whether or not Master’s Degrees matter and also, in a more productive vein, about alternatives for what teachers should get raises for, including limiting bonus pay to getting degrees in specific areas (i.e., not education) and linking pay to evaluations. 

Goes without saying that changing the practice of teachers receiving bonus pay for earning a Master’s degree is going to take some doing. KOMONews quotes Erick Hanushek, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, who notes the ‘biggest losers’ will be university education schools who ‘make a lot of money on master’s degrees.’ According to Hanushek,

“There’s a relationship between education schools and teachers that is not particularly healthy,” he said.

Hanushek said the University of Washington estimate of the $8.6 billion annual cost of master’s degree money is low.

“It’s what you would call free money, but not from a political standpoint,” he said.

Seems to me that we have got to reexamine the whole business of teaching teachers to teach—-perhaps it has become too much of a business, indeed.

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Jose M. C.
JOSE M. C.3 years ago

One problem is that teachers already get so much relevant training in current credential programs and the work done earning a Master's often does relatively little to enhance that. At the university where my wife studied, the difference between the two is ONE COURSE! Schools need to rework credential courses to include a balanced curriculum focusing pedagogy, fieldwork, and emphasis on each candidate's content area. Have all that culminate in a research project (thesis), put it all together and - TADAA!, a complete Master's program.

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle4 years ago

I so totally agree with the ideas, expounded upon in this article. A Master's, especially in Education, does NOT necessarily, nor probably, make one a better teacher. Teachers should be increasing their knowledge in their particular subject every year! New knowledge, new innovations, are what enhance students' learning, PLUS that untestable quality of inspiration that the best teachers have.

I speak as an R.N. R.N.s are required to do education work EVERY YEAR. Our skills are tested EVERY YEAR, as is correct. Good doctors keep up with emerging knowledge each year. "Nurses" who get advanced degrees in nursing, to climb the administrative ladder, I put in the same category as teachers who get Masters degrees to earn more money -- it doesn't improve the students' learning. Floor nurses are the most knowledgeable, yet administrators write the rules we have to follow. To say that this is frustrating, well, ...........

One caveat. Teachers who are ALREADY receiving extra money for their degrees (that they put in a whole lot of time and money, to get), ... should continue to receive it. That is only fair and right.

Faye S.
Faye S.4 years ago

Just because Bill Gates has made billions we are supposed to accept his opinion as being above those with experience in the field of education? His opinion means that his money is talking for him. Bill should stick what he does best...donate to charity.

Past Member 4 years ago

bill gates?? did someone miss their daily dose of prozac to put him on the schedule?? why on earth would anyone listen to him about teachers pay and budgets? if you want him to speak on marketing methods to cheat the public, then he's your guy, but that's about it.

Dianne Prang
Dianne Prang4 years ago

Teachers who extend their education expect to be paid accordingly.... in fact anyone who achieves higher education despite what field they work in expect to be paid in direct proportion to the time and cost of their education.

So, why would teachers expect to be paid on a smaller scale than any other professional?

Do you honestly believe teachers are outside of wanting to achieve success in terms of money and position? The fact that people want to become teachers is a good thing....

Heck, USA has doctors who are lawyers. Why is this? Is it to protect their financial status of being a doctor, subjected to lawsuits?

Something is just simply wrong in this society...so fix the problems... but do not stick it to teachers.... simply unfair in my opinions.

As far as Gates goes, he has protected his foundation monies by investing in Monsanto... we all know that company is as close to being a devil monopoly over farming than any company. That is when I lost my respect for Gates....

If he believes he can solve the problems via teachers' bonuses, he is being far too simplistic adn hypocritical.

USA is based on capitalism.... money, money and more money please.... sock it to me...I got degrees that I paid far too much for...so pay me what I am due.... I am owed my just reward.

Teachers are no less and no more than any other professional occupation.

Sundeep Shah
Sundeep Shah4 years ago


Susan T.
Susan T.4 years ago

Part of the problem with our educational system is exhibited right here.
I thought I would check the activity since I left my 1st comment.

1 comment!

Maybe if we had as much emotional attachment and attention to education, as we do to, say, where we put nativity scenes, we might be able to fix it.

No matter what we do with teacher bonuses, the system will still be broken.
Kudos to Bill Gates...he at least pays attention to the problem, like him or not.

Cathe B.
Cathy D.4 years ago

I have been a teacher for over 10 years and have never heard of teacher bonuses. How would that even be accomplished when public school budgets vote on salaries that follow a schedule? I can say from personal experience that I have spent over $20,000 above the undergraduate degree for advanced, graduate classes. When, at the end of 2 years, I file for a salary adjustment [hardly a "bonus], I received an additional $900/year. If you think that teachers are taking advanced certificates for the money, go back to math class.

Susan T.
Susan T.4 years ago

In case people have failed to notice, education in the US has taken a nose dive. We rank #37 globaly for spending (%GDP) and have a 50% dropout rate. We rank 25 th in literacy.
We can claim to be a world leader...but the education stats won't prove it.
When I read the comments here, one would think it's Bill Gates fault. He is a good example of what is right and working about our educational system.
We need to figure out where we lost it with educating our youth.

Bill Gates is not the problem..unless you are a member of the teachers' union.
He has spent the last 10 yrs. trying to understand the failure of education in the US.
I guess the American Dream has caps....be successful, contribute to society, start a business, make a profit...but not too much. At least he created a product, not so true on Wall Street.

We have a 50% drop- out rate and rank 25th globaly in literacy.

As we argue about vague measures in educational effectiveness we are sliding down the scale in graduating students that can think...not just test well..and we aren't doing a stellar job there either.

If we supported education as enthusiastically as we do sports, for example, we might pay teachers and athletes a decent wage.

When football players have contracts worth $100 million and teachers scrape by, we need to look harder at our priorities.

Merelen Knitter
Merelen Knitter4 years ago

So wait, they don't want teachers to study how to become better teachers now? Attacking a plan that encourages educators to be lifelong learners and become continuously better educators is ridiculous. Teachers are required to continue their education in WI, and elsewhere as well, to stay certified.

Considering how seriously underpaid teachers are to begin with, there are much better places in the economy to look in order to save money.