March 29, 2007

Unions and masters degrees

Kevin Carey asks, Why do unions support pay steps for masters degrees? As an historian, I think the question is a bit backwards, but then I think the same of many other policy questions. After all, bureaucratically-oriented salary schedules existed long before the UFT's successful NYC strike in the 1960s and still exist in plenty of districts without union representation.

As an historian, I wonder how salary schedules developed to include steps for masters degrees; I wonder how steps for masters degrees benefited school systems as well as unions; and I wonder if those dynamics remain the same today.

Only then will I entertain the question of whether it continues to serve union interests to help maintain masters-linked increments. And I will admit I don't know enough about K-12 unionism to have a solid understanding of K-12 union positions on salary schedules. I mean, I've been initiated into the Order of the SMOF Hoodies (SMOF = secret masters of fandom, or maybe secret masters of faculty), but that doesn't give me entree into the more subtle K-12 perspectives.

But there are reasons why districts pay the increment, even in nonunion states.

Update 1: See Ed Muir's response.

Update 2: And more from Kevin Carey (before Ed's response, I assume.) Kevin asks explicitly about the teacher-education response, perhaps assuming that colleges of education are only interested in degree programs or are happy when people enroll for the next step. For the record, one of my colleagues who has taught here for more than 30 years told me years ago that part of my job in graduate classes was to turn enrollees into students. Yes, I've seen students who were in it for the degree and pay bump, but I don't know any of my colleagues at the faculty level who enjoy such interactions or look to create the "here to fill an empty seat and enrollment profile" program.

And many institutions compromise in various ways to make various programs shorter and more convenient for students, sometimes to the detriment of program quality. So maybe we shouldn't say that all masters programs are alike.

There are other possible configurations apart from masters programs.  I know the old Miami-Dade contract included temporary pay bumps for teachers who had acquired a graduate certificate (a  subdegree program) and worked in certain schools.  That section is no longer in the contract, but I don't know why.  Let's just say that colleges of education are not necessarily the "structure it only one way" organization that some may assume.

Update 3: Leo Casey responds to Kevin, who fires back. Apart from the overheated rhetoric (c'mon, guys; the testosterone bar is around the corner near the ballpark, not here in the blogosphere), both have points.  Leo notes that the study Kevin cites is from North Carolina, with a different distribution of educational credentials from other states. Maybe masters degrees have little association with student achievement in North Carolina because of things intrinsic to the state. The broader issue is that state and local policies often determine the distribution of masters degrees, the rationale, the structure, etc.

For his part, Kevin is right to question the 'professionalism' argument that Leo makes: masters degrees are good because they'll raise the status of teaching. But Kevin's argument isn't the best one, I think, but I'm biased because I've written about it before:

Professionalism, however, is not likely to be a successful gambit in schooling, for several reasons. Most importantly, professional ideology is politically unpalatable in the late twentieth century. Trying to use professionalism misunderstands the historical context for the ideology of expertise and its widespread (political) success a century ago. Professionalism in the form of high-status, science-based occupations like medicine and engineering was one response to the chaos of industrialization and changing class structure (Wiebe 1967). Its early proponents argued that the complexities of modern life required technical expertise to solve public policy and practical problems. However, professions include more than high-status jobs, with occupations as diverse as architecture and craft work like plumbing.

A profession typically involves three dimensions: a claim to specialized expertise, some informal or formal credentialing to control entry into the occupation, and autonomy on the job (Friedson 1984). Classroom teaching falls partway among all three dimensions. Classroom teaching does involve some skills that few could walk in off the street with, but the general public has far more knowledge of what happens in classrooms (and is more willing to make second judgments of teaching) than fields like surgery. Long-term teaching requires credentials, but many school systems hire uncredentialed personnel on an emergency basis. Finally, public schools operate as loosely coupled organizations (Weick 1976): Most teachers can shut their doors in the face of some supervisory directives, but material conditions (such as the textbooks available) circumscribe their autonomy on the job, and they face other demands they cannot ignore, such as the official curriculum and standardized tests. We should see the ideology of professionalism thus as attempting to emulate a relatively small slice of all occupations with professional traits rather than, as is typically assumed, making teaching a "real" profession. Teaching already is a real profession, though one with less claim to specialized expertise and less autonomy than advocates of teacher professionalism would want.

Education did professionalize at the same time as law and medicine, but administrators and not teachers were the beneficiaries.

Listen to this article
Posted in Education policy on March 29, 2007 11:40 AM |