Pope Foundation president ‘depressed’ that teachers might get paid for master’s degrees but totally chuffed about his own

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Last week Senate Education chair Rick Horner filed a bill which would restore master’s pay for many teachers in North Carolina.  If passed, the legislation would essentially reverse a move made by state lawmakers in 2013, when compensation for graduate degrees was revoked.  Reaction from teachers and pro-public education organizations was largely positive.  But at least one prominent North Carolinian found the news depressing.

John Hood is president of the John William Pope Foundation, a conservative organization which gives grants to a variety of causes.  He is also chairman of the board of the influential John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank which publishes the Carolina Journal.  

A frequent echo chamberist for the Carolina Journal, Hood makes no secret about his view that paying teachers based on years of experience and degrees is a ‘bad idea’ and that we need to figure out a way to make performance pay happen.  So it should come as no surprise that Hood would cherry-pick data that supports his views on master’s pay, ignoring studies that show positive impact of graduate degrees on both testing data and teacher evaluation results.

What is a bit more surprising is that Hood is cheeky enough to dismiss the value of teachers earning master’s degrees just three months after announcing to the world how ‘enriching’ he found his own graduate experience:

Hood found his master’s degree so life changing that he published an opinion piece of truly astounding rhetorical complexity entitled ‘Take time to broaden the mind’ in which he beseeches the reader to seek out a path of enlightenment similar to his own.  Clearly Hood believes in the power of graduate degrees to bring about fundamental, positive change in people. As long as those people aren’t educators.

It’s a mystery whether the ‘enriching’ from Hood’s master’s degree included any additional Benjamins on top of the more than $230,000 salary reported on the Pope Foundation’s most recent 990 filing.  Unlike Hood, those teachers he claims don’t improve by going to graduate school actually need the money.  Our average teaching salary of $50,861 ranks 37th in the nation, nearly $10,000 behind the national average.  Since the GOP supermajority came to power in 2010, we’ve lost master’s pay, longevity pay, and retiree health benefits, and veteran teacher pay is now frozen from years 15 to 24 with only one final raise after that.  No teacher in North Carolina would ever dream of raking in a salary like Hood’s. But a 10% increase for a master’s degree doesn’t seem outrageous.

When it comes to the master’s pay issue, there’s limited value in playing the duelling research game.  As I said, there’s ample evidence to support both points of view. So, like Hood, I rely largely on my own anecdotal experience to shape my opinion.  The graduate degree I earned improved my classroom management skills, helped me design more engaging lessons, deepened my content knowledge, and made me a more reflective practitioner.  It made me a far better teacher in many ways.

Earning a master’s degree takes tremendous commitment.  By compensating teachers who are willing to put that kind of time, money and effort into ‘broadening the mind,’ our legislators can show they value teachers who practice what they preach when it comes to lifelong learning.  Let’s do the right thing by North Carolina’s teachers and restore master’s pay in 2019.

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