This week, President Obama proposed a new $1 billion federal program that would establish a “Master Teacher Corps” in 100 locations across the country.
This is not the first time the Administration has proposed subsidizing teacher salaries, but it is the first proposal that would give federal-issued paychecks directly to local teachers.
Each site designated by the new program would have 50 corps teachers, designated as such based on “demonstrated effectiveness in teaching one or more STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] subjects” and their “contributions to the continuous improvement of teaching and learning.”
According to the White House, decisions about what qualifies teacher effectiveness would be made locally or regionally, but compensation—up to $20,000 in bonus money per teacher—would be provided by federal tax dollars.
This national teacher corps is part of an effort, the Obama Administration stated, to move American students from the middle to the top of international STEM achievement.
For policymakers looking for a quick fix to our education problems, federal money cannot buy teacher quality. The only robust and reliable predictor of a teacher’s effectiveness is his or her past performance in the classroom. Licenses, certifications, advanced degrees, and hours of professional development have little to no impact on what students actually learn from their teachers. Paying for more of these qualifications would not lead to better student outcomes.
But even if the “Master Teacher Corps” program does reward objective classroom performance—it is unclear how teacher effectiveness will be defined—the new money will come on top of the existing teacher contracts that often have gym teachers on the same pay scale as STEM teachers.
More federal dollars for teachers will either exacerbate our existing irrational teacher pay system or—at best—postpone fundamental reforms at the local level.