Thursday, March 30, 2017


In 2015, the legislature approved funding for the first year of the Idaho Career Ladder. House Bill 296 was a monumental achievement, into which the state has allocated over $130 million fr teacher salaries through the 2017 session, as part of the Governor's plan for K-12 public education.

The Career Ladder legislation included some important departures from the old funding distribution formula that had been in place for some time.

It was important to legislators and the Governor to have some sort of accountability built into the process of distributing funds. Accordingly, the legislation included a requirement that a teacher receive a mark of "proficient" on his/her evaluation in order for increases in funding for his/her position to be distributed to the district. It's actually a whole lot more complicated than that, but for the purposes of this article, the above explanation will have to suffice.

One piece of the legislation that still is not well-understood is compensation for advanced degrees. School district salary schedules (and the state salary distribution formula) had long given credit for two factors which formed the salary matrix - experience (years served) and education (credits earned in continuing education coursework).

The distribution formula prior to 2015-16 did not have a "Master's barrier", except at the very end of the schedule (Master's degree +36 credits or Ed Specialist or Doctorate). In other words, funds were distributed to districts based on credits earned by teachers beyond the Bachelor's degree, but not for achievement of a degree. So a teacher might have a Bachelor's degree and 36 credits, but the distribution formula rewarded the district the same amount for that teacher as for one who had earned a Master's degree. Thus, incentives for teachers to earn a Master's Degree came at the local district level, if at all.

The vast majority of districts mimicked the state distribution formula for their salary schedules, and allowed teachers to accumulate credits beyond the Bachelor's degree in order to get raises. In 2014-15, we found only a few that had a built-in Master's barrier; Moscow, Boise, Lapwai, and Avery (a tiny northern Idaho district with only 2 teachers).

As examples, here are the 2014-15 schedules from Moscow and Post Falls:

Note that Moscow's schedule required that teachers have a Master's degree to advance beyond lane 4...

while Post Falls' schedule allowed teachers to accumulate credits or get a Master's degree.

The introduction of the Career Ladder changed the advanced degree landscape. The original version of the bill had no education increments at all, and was based purely on evaluation proficiency and years of service.  But the final Career Ladder bill contained phased-in rewards for two levels of continuing education - Bachelor's degree + 24 credits and Master's degree. For these two levels of education, the distribution to districts (not cumulative) are/will be:

Since the law rewarded districts for all teachers who had reached the BA +24 credits or had attained a Master's degree, districts were faced with a choice - use the money as a pass-through (award it directly to teachers who had attained these levels) or add a barrier for the Master's degree.

In Boise, we argued that our salary schedule already had lanes that rewarded teachers for continuing education, and simply added the money to the salary negotiations process. Other districts decided to give the funds directly to teachers who had reached the level (even though those that had reached the BA +24 level had already earned increments on the schedule). Here's our 2015-16 schedule:

We were curious, though, as to the status of districts around the state. What percentage of district certified staffs have a Master's degree?  Here's the answer for districts with over 100 FTE (full-time equivalent positions):

There are additional districts in the count - we just decided to report the top 20 or so. For the record, the lowest percentages of master's degrees among larger districts are in Fruitland and Mountain Home, both of which have 16%. And those two other districts we mentioned before - well, 47% of Lapwai's certified staff have a Master's degree, as do both of Avery's staff members.

Now, whether or not a Master's degree makes a difference in instructional expertise is up for debate - there's not much research supporting a correlation. However, we believe that teachers who achieve an advanced degree bring more expertise to their teaching than do those who just accumulate credits. And the state of Idaho has valued the Master's degree in their reimbursement of districts in the Career Ladder.