Point of View

Teacher supplement must be kept

June 16, 2013 

Eliminating the salary supplement for teachers who earn master’s degrees in their areas of teaching will be disastrous for the state’s educational system – kindergarten through graduate school.

The budget item has passed both the N.C. Senate and House and will be sent to Gov. Pat McCrory in the next few weeks.

As a reading education professor at Appalachian State University, I know that if this budget item is enacted:

• Teachers will stop going back to state universities for advanced training in teaching. Many teachers want more knowledge and skill so that they can better help their students.

However, most simply can’t afford the coursework (approximately $8,000 for a master’s degree) without the promise of an eventual, modest salary supplement.

And this will, and should, breed anger in these teachers – already underpaid – who see other educators (counselors, speech therapists and school psychologists) paid at a higher rate because their advanced degrees are recognized.

One must ask this question: Is a skillful speech therapist or counselor more important to the state than a skillful reading teacher?

• If classroom teachers and reading teachers (particularly K to 5) do not pursue and gain advanced training in teaching reading, it is North Carolina’s schoolchildren who will suffer.

A few “cherry-picked” research studies in Florida do not negate the fact that quality graduate teacher training in reading can make a difference, particularly for the 30 percent of kids who struggle with literacy.

In fact, if there is one thing I have learned over my 35-year career, it is that a knowledgeable, confident, problem-solving teacher is the major factor that makes a lasting difference in the reading performance of children.

There is also an important, if hard to measure, “spread effect” from master’s-level training in reading.

When these graduate students return to their home school districts, they often share their new knowledge and skills with their fellow teachers.

Some even become knowledgeable administrators who make positive systemic differences in the reading programs in their respective districts.

If knowledge or expertise is not gained by individual teachers through graduate training, it will not enter the school systems in which these teachers work.

I know full well that there are herds of for-profit, commercial enterprises “champing at the bit” to hawk teacher training and instructional programs to the schools. Beware!

• If graduate reading programs at state universities dry up – and they will over a two- to three-year period if this budget item moves forward — North Carolina will not be able to attract knowledgeable reading professors to teach in this state.

Most professors go into the field because we want to work not just with undergraduate students, but also with practicing teachers. North Carolina reading professors, who come from prestigious universities across the nation, realize that we have much to share with North Carolina teachers and that, in turn, we can learn from these teachers.

Without robust graduate reading programs, state universities will lose their best young professors, and they will not be able to attract new ones to take their place.

This is not a threat; it is the truth. Why would a talented and energetic young Ph.D. in reading choose North Carolina over Georgia or Maryland when he or she could work with graduate students (practicing teachers) in one state but not the other?

I would not have come back to North Carolina to teach given the current situation.

Now one could argue – and I must assume many in the North Carolina legislature do – that teaching struggling readers does not require the depth of training that other professions require.

However, scholars reject this argument, as do parents of children with reading problems.

I doubt that even the legislators believe it.

More likely, classroom teachers and reading specialists are being targeted by the legislature because they do not have powerful professional organizations to fight back on their behalf.

Eliminating the salary supplement for North Carolina teachers who earn a master’s degree in their area of teaching is a bad idea. Its enactment could harm education in this state for a long time to come.

Dr. Darrell Morris is a professor of Reading Education at Appalachian State University in Boone.

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