My colleagues and I read yesterday’s Des Moines Register editorial (End pay bump for master’s degree) with frustration and dismay.  At the table in the teacher’s lounge were three teachers who either have master’s degrees or are currently working towards them.

On-line masters programs have exploded in the last 10 years.  When I completed my Master of Music Education program from Boston University in 2008 it was the only program that allowed for 100% completion of the program off-campus.  This was an important selling point for me as at that time I had a child in diapers and my wife was pregnant with our second.  I was in class for two years (yes, including summer terms) while teaching full-time and paying for the degree as I went through the program.  The Register’s editorial is misleading in suggesting that public dollars fund advanced degrees for teachers.  Unlike our colleagues at the university level public school teachers do not receive paid sabbaticals to complete advanced degrees, and very few are funded by public school dollars.

The editorial also suggests that online education for educators is some kind of a scam.  All of the courses in my program were rigorous.  Of my classmates I was one of the few who wasn’t using the degree to pursue a position at the college level.  If online courses are good enough for Iowa’s K-12 students, then why are they subpar for advancing teaching?

What the skills, knowledge, and experience that I earned with that degree gave me was the capacity to lead curriculum revisions, to position my instruction in the broader world of music education, to empathize and reach a broader range of students, and most importantly to understand where we now stand in the history of public education.

This latest editorial is another in a string of pot-shots against teachers and the public institutions they serve.  We seize on an isolated incident of true fraud and postulate that the one predictable means of advancing income as an educator is invalid.

I’ve seen lots of ways Iowa’s elected officials have gone back on their promises in my 20 years serving in public schools.  There was the Educational Excellence program (Phase I, II, and III) of 1987, which was reduced by the mid-90’s.  There was Governor Branstad’s push to have more Iowa teachers attain National Board Certification.  Teachers were promised a $25,000 annual pay bump for that piece of paper.  The thinking was that the program was so rigorous that few teachers would attain it.  So many did in fact that the annual stipend has now been reduced to $2,500 and expires after 10 years.  In this time funding for the Area Education Agencies has steadily declined, collective bargaining rights for educators have been eviscerated, and Supplemental State Aid has failed to keep pace with inflation.

As other writers have pointed out the key weakness in the Register’s editorial is that it offers no better solutions.  Apparently the goal of becoming a ‘life-long learner’ ends after you receive your undergraduate degree.  Pay scales based on experience are on the way out.  The pay for performance idea is wrought with real conflict of interest and ethical concerns.  Is the subtext here to continue the narrative that teachers are in fact overcompensated already?  That their suckling at the government teat is the real problem with the state budget?  That the taxes levied to support their extravagant benefits, work schedules, and salaries are the drag on the state economy, the cause of brain drain out of Iowa’s colleges and universities, and ‘exhibit A’ of bloated government?

I have an idea.  Why don’t we acknowledge education as ‘intellectual property’ and pay educators ‘royalties’ for their products?  If the stated goal of Iowa’s educational system is to create a highly skilled workforce, then let’s follow each one of our students into their careers.  Employers would pay royalties back to schools based on the value their publicly educated employee brings to their business.  Of course it would be scaled based on what kind of business this employer is in and the level of productivity and salary of the employee.  These ‘royalties’ would then be remitted back to the school district(s) that educated this worker and compensation would be spread amongst those who worked to help that student achieve his or her adult success.  Sounds fair, but maybe a bit complicated?  It also sounds like corporate income tax which apparently is a drag on the economy.

Really, I want to know whose side the Register’s editorial board is on?  They rail against assaults to public education in one article, then slam teachers’ desire to expand their knowledge in the next.  This article feeds into the ‘have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too’ mindset of the Republicans in state government.  Sadly, cake is rapidly disappearing in Iowa’s public schools.  How are we going to care for and foster our kids if we keep attacking those who educate them?