by Bob Luebke
Gov. McCrory’s statement to lawmakers as they adjourned the special legislative veto session gives conservatives a few things to think about.
The state budget was a banner achievement for those committed to true education reform. It included more support for charter schools and reforms for the teaching profession.
However, the Governor sounded like someone who was less than thrilled with the outcome when he said:
Too much education policy was slipped into the budget bill, causing serious concerns especially from our teachers and educators.
Executive branch concerns over long-term operational costs were ignored by passing bills with good intentions but unintended consequences, and overriding vetoes on drug testing and immigration.
The statement raises the question: If McCrory had significant reservations with provisions in the budget, why did he sign it?
In an attempt to address actions the education establishment had blasted, McCrory also announced in the statement that he “found” $10 million in funds somewhere in the budget and he was urging the State Board of Education to ensure that 3,000 individuals currently pursuing master’s degrees will receive the pay differential when they graduate.
This flew in the face of a state budget that included provisions to end payment of the master’s-degree differential for teachers.
But there is absolutely no conclusive evidence to show that master’s degrees and other advanced degrees have any demonstrable effect on how much students learn. That is exactly the reason why the extra pay was cut in the first place. Even the left-of-center Brookings Institute has concluded:
In the area of teacher preparation, substantial evidence suggests that general graduate preparation does little to improve student performance.
Content knowledge in math contributes to student achievement in math, but little is known about other subject areas or about the quantity or focus of content knowledge that is relevant.
In other words, there is no clear link between possession of most advanced degrees and how well those teachers’ students perform in school.
There is one minor exception, the report noted: “Subject matter pedagogy may improve student achievement, but no evidence exists on most other aspects of pedagogy.” So, if a history teacher goes and gets a master’s degree in history, he or she might become a more effective educator. That makes sense — teachers who are subject matter experts are probably more passionate and knowledgeable about their subject than teachers who are not.
More often than not, however, teachers obtain advanced degrees in education — not their specific subject area. As a result, state funds are effectively wasted.
The Governor’s action circumvents the will of the legislature, and I suspect some may question the legality of the actions. I’m no attorney, but how is it possible for the Governor to re-appropriate public funds for a purpose contrary to legislative intent? You have to wonder what Republican legislators are thinking.
Finally, the Governor’s statement also included language restating his commitment to providing “testing relief for teachers by reducing the number of standardized tests, creating a local control option for our local education systems to innovate.” Those are two goals I fully support.
However, the Governor’s stated support for national Common Core Standards works against these goals.
Common Core includes its own system of tests. And despite some rhetoric about state control, the national standards are being pushed by the federal government and nonprofit groups.
If Common Core is fully instituted in North Carolina, it will make reductions in standardized testing and enhanced local control merely nice things to talk about.
Conservatives may be shaking their heads at McCrory’s comments. They should also be alert to what the Governor does next on the crucial subject of education.
—Bob Luebke is senior policy analyst at the Civitas Institute in Raleigh.