DeKalb invests in Ph.Ds for its administrators when it should invest in its effective teachers

Janusz Maciuba teaches English as a Second Language at a technical college in the Atlanta area. He is a frequent contributor to the AJC.

Here is his latest op-ed column.

By Janusz Maciuba

More than 10 years ago, recently graduated from a master’s degree program in English education, I started teaching freshmen at Stone Mountain High School.

Georgia State University, for a price, had converted my academic bachelor’s degree into a vocational Master of Education degree and teacher certification.

I had taken classes in the History of Education, the Psychology of Education, the Philosophy of Education, and the golgothic Statistics of Education, along with some interesting graduate-level English Literature classes.

I had observed a teacher at Lilburn Middle School and done a double student teaching assignment at North Gwinnett High School and Cedar Grove High that exposed me to both ends of the racial and socioeconomic spectrum that exists in Atlanta area schools.

And I still didn’t know how to teach. Or control a class.

In the next classroom was a social studies teacher, whom I will call Tracy ( because that’s her name), who had a quiet classroom of well-behaved students; who volunteered, or was volunteered, for committees and other tasks that no other teacher wanted to do; and who was very effective and happy at her job.

But with just a bachelor’s degree, she had started out making $2,000 less than I was making with my big useless M.Ed. And $4,000 less than a teacher with a doctorate degree.

Now, almost every k-12 teacher has a master’s degree, some from legitimate, but profit-centered, colleges and universities and some from for-profit, life-experience-crediting, quickie programs. All that effort, money, and sleepy, stressed teachers in classrooms, for what? No teacher in k-12 needs an advanced degree. The university rule was that you needed a degree higher than the students you were teaching; a bachelor’s degree satisfies that requirement in k-12.

Graduate degrees are about extra pay and an administration’s bragging rights, but not about improving teaching and education. It should be equal pay for equal work.

Spread those degree payments around all teachers because the real ideal is to have effective teachers, not over-degreed teachers.

Now comes news that DeKalb County Schools is granting eight administrators a chance to earn free Ph.Ds at Mercer University. It would be a three-year specially designed program to produce administrators who would extend Dr. Cheryl Atkinson’s reform agenda.

A Ph.D involves research. In education, this means learning an academic language that makes little sense to parents or teachers. It means a lot of statistics classes for this cadre drawn from a population, with some exceptions, of course, that is not particularly known for its intellectual depth. And, principals and central office workers are in those jobs because they don’t really like teaching children.

A friend spent four years earning a doctorate in epidemiology. It was hard work but she has a talent for statistics and science and her dissertation was published in a peer-reviewed journal. One hopes the Mercer program is not too specially designed for DeKalb’s candidates.

Why are people volunteering for this intellectual pain? The answer is money. Get through the specially designed program and you become an Education god in this school system. And then the fun really begins: It’s going to be a game of Survivor for the superintendent’s job. Oh, to be a fly on the wall as Machiavellian plots boil, characters are assassinated, and factions foment.

A brighter approach would have been an MBA program in finance and management, so that future superintendent candidates would have a solid fiscal background.

One thing I do hope for is that these folks gods spend a year, after becoming doctors of philosophy, teaching a class because I’m sure none of them remember what it was like to be a teacher.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

42 comments Add your comment

crankee-yankee

October 9th, 2012
6:09 am

Mr. Maciuba’s experience is not mine. Additionally, he is comparing apples and oranges, teacher prep Master’s programs vs. PhD’s. Two very different animals. The first thing to point out is that almost every country considered to be ahead of us concentrates on increased teacher preparation over other foci. When I got mine, I was able to immediately use what I was learning to improve my instruction. Maybe the fact he “converted” his initial degree to an education degree is part of the reason he had difficulty his first years. I agree those programs are marginal at best, they seem to be the “answer” to teacher shortages in name only. Most of the “Teach America” products I have worked with have little classroom management skills right out of the box and that is a reflection on the program so we can agree on that point.

I can also agree with him on the question of Dekalb’s push for adinistrative PhD’s. A single program to churn out multiple candidates seems short-sighted at best. Degrees from various sources in various areas of concentration matched to the jobs in question would create a better mix of talent IMHO.

But now we part ways, a degree focused on administration is one thing but degrees focused on teaching & learning, when obtained from reputable sources, are, in my experience, worth the time, money & effort to obtain. “No teacher in k-12 needs an advanced degree” is a myopic statement not based in fact. I work with teachers every day and lean on those with advanced degrees as they have insights, methodology & well developed pedagogies that help develop curriculum & assessment better than those without them. They are teacher leaders, the sergeants of education if you will.

So question the uber administration program being pushed by Dekalb, on the surface, it looks to be what he claims, but not by attacking unrelated programs directly beneficial to the classroom.

DeborahinAthens

October 9th, 2012
6:32 am

Years ago, a friend of ours pointed out that there were more administrators in our school system than in the entire country of France. The French have a stellar educational system. Why do we keep trying to invent the wheel? Z

concernedmom30329

October 9th, 2012
6:54 am

Thank you, Maureen for running this column. The latest disturbing fact about this project is that at least one of the eight is eligible to retire next year. She has given the system her word that she will stay at least 5 more years, but are you kidding me. Return on investment clearly isn’t a priority.
I would like the state to step in and say no.

When DeKalb needs administrators for the central office, which is the alleged goal of this program, they should come from smaller, successful, diverse districts. DCSS should not be growing our own, so to speak. We need officials from places where academic achievement is the norm, not the exception.

Withheld for Obvious Reasons

October 9th, 2012
7:01 am

AMEN!!!
My wife has 20+ years with DeKalb and this situation says an awful lot about what’s wrong with the DeKalb system (which USED to be amongst the state’s finest). Too many fake degrees(from the profit schools which are no more than paid for degrees),too many sycophant PHDs playing politics, obvious financial mismanagement, and on and on.
DeKalb needs a PROFESSIONAL superintendent who won’t pad their staff with more over educated(and fake educated) toadies playing politics. Add in pay cuts for those ACTUALLY teaching-and now the “balanced” school year???- the morale could hardly get worse.
The folks running the system(and their school board enablers) are soiling the system and are not going to improve ANYTHING until the abuses as described above are ended and common sense is restored to the running of the system.
My better half -who has always loved teaching and all that entails with challenging students to improve themselves, is running out of steam with the mismanagement of the system.If the geniuses running the show think they are doing ANYTHING right-they are simply living in a fantasy world-and the students are the ones being shorted (not to mention the taxpayers,parents,etc),

Atticus Joad

October 9th, 2012
7:03 am

There are exceptions of course, but Mr. Maciuba is absolutely right: the majority of administrators are administrators because they are failed teachers or never wanted to be in the classroom in the first place. Education classes and degrees do nothing whatsoever to make one a better teacher.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

October 9th, 2012
7:20 am

Maureen, now you’re starting to go to preaching- about people’s pocketbooks and their access to the taxpayers’ pocketbook.

I got your back.

Lance Manion

October 9th, 2012
7:27 am

Atticus, you may be right about Dekalb County, but in the district where I work, many of our administrators were great teachers. Dekalb is a mess in so many ways. The editorial it is spot on. The degrees from the for profit colleges are not real masters or doctorates. They are diploma mills that would not exist if it were not for the stupid idea to pay teachers for degrees, and not performance.

dubious

October 9th, 2012
7:33 am

A much better use of the money would be to pay math and science teachers to take a bachelor’s or graduate level course in the field they are teaching, Updating and expanding their subject knowledge base would be a huge asset in the classroom, and would not require that they actually jump through all hoops to pursue a degree. The same money could provide individual courses to dozens of teachers and the benefits would actually be felt by students in the classroom.

Lee

October 9th, 2012
7:49 am

“No teacher in k-12 needs an advanced degree….. Graduate degrees are about extra pay and an administration’s bragging rights, but not about improving teaching and education.”

FINALLY, somebody said something in one of these letters to the editor that I can agree with.

Back in the 60s, there were many elementary teachers who didn’t have college degrees – my Mom was one – and they did an excellent job of educating the student. Today, you have teachers with their online doctorates preening like a peacock and insisting first graders call them “Dr. Math” or some other foolishness. We’re paying Librarians for graduate degrees. We’re paying premiums for PE teachers with Phd’s.

Meanwhile, our children are sitting in tin can trailers and schools cannot afford basic supplies such as copier paper.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Lee

October 9th, 2012
7:52 am

BTW, a government expenditure for an operating expense such as a salary is not an INVESTMENT.

That term was co-opted by the political spin masters to divert criticism while they spend this country into bankruptcy.

John Konop

October 9th, 2012
7:57 am

James,

You make many valid points! Great job, and thank you for being a teacher as well!

Goodforkids

October 9th, 2012
8:09 am

Better for the soon-to-retire admin to go out a doctoral level income…retirement will be higher. But I am sure they are doing it for the kids. Sure. I have a Ph.D. But there are PLENTY of problems to solve in Dekalb that don’t require one. Ridiculous. If you don’t have the talent, go find it. If the insiders want doctorates, let them pay for their degrees.

The Deal

October 9th, 2012
8:22 am

Gee, ya think, Maureen? This contrasts a little with the puff piece you wrote a few days ago. This insulting idea to pay for PhDs was conceived by none other than the superintendent you praised about 6 posts down. She is an absolute disaster and doesn’t even seem to have the ability to come up with a pretense of caring about our students.

Neve

October 9th, 2012
8:28 am

Couldn’t agree more. Administrators’ salaries can support advanced education. Better the county should fund very specific training in managing people and systems, supporting their staff’s best efforts. I believe our best administrators have their eyes on the horizon for education and DeKalb citizens, not just their own retirement.

Sad State of Affairs

October 9th, 2012
8:30 am

“In the next classroom was a social studies teacher, who I will call Tracy…”

Wow, a master’s in English education and he can’t distinguish “who” from “whom.”

Lynn43

October 9th, 2012
8:32 am

I stated on this blog when RTTT first came out that none of the money would reach the classroom or the students. I’m right.

SML

October 9th, 2012
8:35 am

And they wonder why they are going broke!

Maureen Downey

October 9th, 2012
8:35 am

@Sad, Great catch. Please note that I have changed.

Maureen

Progressive Humanist

October 9th, 2012
8:49 am

If Tracy was teaching with only an undergraduate degree then that means she must have received hers in education (social studies education). But I thought education was a worthless degree because teachers with degrees in the field have fewer content hours than those with a straight BA or BS in their field (like Mr. Maciuba). How could she possibly have been a good teacher? And if her degree was in education, then she took all those education courses (philosophy of, psychology, sociology) that apparently didn’t help Mr. Maciuba. Why did they seem to make a difference with her?

But really, we are talking about two different things- administrators being paid by the county to get questionable doctorates that they already earn enough to pay for themselves, and teachers receiving advanced education which may or may not help them in the classroom. It would probably be beneficial if we made the distinction between those two very different scenarios. And while the premise of Mr. Maciuba’s piece will get some people riled up, the anecdotal evidence he submits is not very convincing.

Toni

October 9th, 2012
8:59 am

Let’s just wrap this up and put a pretty bow on it!!
The LOVE of TEACHING has now become the LOVE of MONEY…

Dr. Monica Henson

October 9th, 2012
9:03 am

I happen to share Mr. Maciuba’s opinion of Statistics of Education as “golgothic.” ;)

However, I take issue with the broad-brush characterization that “principals and central office workers are in those jobs because they don’t really like teaching children.” This is probably true for many, perhaps a majority, of administrators. However, I believe that it’s changing due to the necessity of placing principals who understand teaching & learning into the role rather than simply promoting football coaches who can win games and allowing them to run the school.

There are some dedicated, well-educated principals out there who were themselves highly accomplished teachers and cultivate a strong culture of inquiry among their faculties. Many of them lead charter schools, but the district world has its share of them as well.

I do agree that the simple fact that a teacher holds an advanced degree does not guarantee excellent instruction, productive classroom management, or much of anything. Nevertheless, the incentive for a teacher or an administrator to earn a credential with some sort of subsidy is an idea that shouldn’t be thrown out with the baby’s bathwater.

In Massachusetts in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Commissioner David Driscoll and the legislature introduced an incentive for classroom teachers to earn National Board Certification, which was not a subsidy program. Rather, NBCTs would be treated for salary schedule purposes as holding a master’s degree and would be awarded full standard professional certification (previously satisfied only by the attainment of a master’s degree).

I opted to do the NBCT route before starting to work on my master’s degree, and my local superintendent was willing to put $500 of district money against the $2,300 fee to go through the certification process. It was, quite simply, the single best professional development exercise I ever undertook, and it transformed my classroom teaching practice.

Had this incentive not been put forward, I would have gone straight into a master of arts in teaching degree program, and I might not have sought NB certification until afterward. Going through NB certification made me into an action researcher and got me thinking on a larger scale than my own classroom, influencing my decision get my graduate degrees in school administration and educational leadership so that I could become a school and district leader.

Dunwoodian

October 9th, 2012
9:12 am

Seeing that DeKalb will use public funds for the Mercer degree, lets hope it is rigorous and real.

Too many DeKalb big wigs running around with Ed.D’s from “University of Sarasota”
“Dr.” Pam Speaks
“Dr.” Yvonne Butler
For example
A very dated article about this institution

http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1798&dat=19811127&id=OGUeAAAAIBAJ&sjid=sY4EAAAAIBAJ&pg=6084,3474994 (need to cut and paste, sorry)

Disgusted in Dekalb

October 9th, 2012
9:18 am

Wow. Thank you, Mr. Maciuba, for putting this incredibly inappropriate use of taxpayer funds into the context of your experience, and thank you, Maureen, for posting it.

curious

October 9th, 2012
9:23 am

Has the state yet approved this use of RTTT funds? I know the approval was pending and expected, but after the hoopla, I was hoping that maybe the approval would not come.

banshee29

October 9th, 2012
9:40 am

You all better get your noses out of the Dekalb stink and look around elsewhere in the state. Politics have cost several Supers their jobs and the teachers are going to suffer soon. With exorbitant budget cuts that will fall on the teachers with the next fiscal year, morale and performance will crash and burn. You get what you pay for (not counting advanced degrees.) Do not blame the teachers for achieveing this advanced state of recognition. The ONLY option I had for a raise was to earn a second and third advanced degree. Do not think the business world runs this way. These companies are based on performance. Personally I would love for teaching to go this way. Just like baseball players. Why not pay everyone on performance? There is no disgrace in furthering ones education, especially when the future of your paycheck depends on it.

Disgusted in Dekalb

October 9th, 2012
9:53 am

The best thing Cheryl Atkinson could have done was to come in and immediately raise teacher salaries, including reinstating retirement benefits and getting rid of furlough days. At the same time, she should have taken the advice of the auditor paid for by the County and eliminated unnecessary central office positions while rightsizing (reducing) salaries deemed by the audit to be out of line with the marketplace. Dekalb has plenty of money; it is just mismanaged. If teachers are paid well and administrators are not overpaid, a lot of the incentive to move up for more pay is removed. Those who truly want to become an administrator for the children will still seek those jobs. Unfortunately, Atkinson has chosen to continue to follow the path which has led to low student achievement and the flight of teachers and families who have any other viable options.The voters got the board they wanted and the board got the super they wanted. And Dekalb continues to circle the drain.

Tackless Angela Just Speaking The Facts (Angela)

October 9th, 2012
10:05 am

See I told you this woman could careless about her teaching staff. She has done NOTHING and I mean NOTHING with regards or respect for us. Cheryl again is no more interest in DCSS than the rest of the board and Crawford. She is just another COLD body filling a seat with a very very large cushion.

Dr. Proud Black Man

October 9th, 2012
10:07 am

Bought me a degree, Argosy 08, because IT’S THE ONLY WAY to increase my salary without becoming an administrator or joining the reprobates over at central office. No thanks! Has it improved my pedagogical skills? Not at all; I was an exceptional educator before I became a “doctor.” It is what it is people. Btw I don’t have a quiet class. Plenty of talking but NO NOISE. Those of you here who actually teach know what I’m talking about… ;)

William Casey

October 9th, 2012
11:33 am

Dr. Proud is exactly right about plenty of talking but no noise. Quiet classes are over-rated.

Edugator

October 9th, 2012
1:07 pm

Not saying that it’s a cause and effect relationship, but some of the weakest links in my building have Ph.D. after their name. Disgusted in Dekalb has it right.

Janusz Maciuba

October 9th, 2012
5:02 pm

Wow! Lots of great comments. I had to leave out some details of my teaching experience, as guest columns can only be 600 words long. At Stone Mt HS, when I came back for the second semester, even students I had failed seemed happy to see me. I had full control of all the classes — easier with freshmen who are cowed by the new school — with only a couple of kids acting out. Ralph Simpson was the principal and he ran a tight ship. However, the assistant principal had over-estimated attendance and had hired teachers with more seniority. So, I was sent to Stone Mt MS. Not good, no discipline, failing school. Plus my daughter had just been born. I was allowed to leave without prejudice.

I have been thinking about a piece on principals because I subbed for a semester and saw many in action. My daughters both attended Evansdale Elementary which had a very involved and student-focused administration.

I teach adults now.

I’m not really sorry for the who/whom mix-up; English is changing and that distinction has been dropped from real and common usage.

It’s almost too bad that parents can’t vote for boards and administrations annually.

Mary Grabar

October 10th, 2012
7:34 am

I just finished teaching Frederick Douglass’s “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July,” and found it a delight to teach, not only for its message, but its eloquence and erudition. Douglass, of course, was a slave who largely educated himself. Now we have Ph.D.’s attempting to get inner-city kids up to basic literacy. My theory, from observation, is that the advanced degree in education, makes one a WORSE teacher. To be added to this excellent guest column is the fact that many of these education professors specialize in political correctness that takes attention away from the basics and puts students into a perpetual victim class. But too many teachers see themselves as saviors and not teachers.

Progressive Humanist

October 10th, 2012
7:57 am

Just more anecdotes. English “professors” need to learn the difference between opinion and evidence (and the difference between hypothesis and theory). Add to this the fact that those who have studied straight English at the graduate level are likely never to have been involved in and are not familiar with the psychological research on reading development, and you we once again have people rambling about things they know nothing about.

the prof

October 10th, 2012
11:28 am

Argosy………….ahahahahahaha

Dr. Proud Black Man

October 10th, 2012
11:50 am

@the prof

$65k+

ahahahahahah

FYI

October 10th, 2012
3:00 pm

@ Mary Grabar, 7:34 am. I believe that you yourself, an adjunct Assistant Professor at Clayton State U. (or you used to be), have a Ph.D.

pride and joy

October 10th, 2012
3:49 pm

It doesn’t surpise me that Dekalb schools wastes money. What still angers me is the lengths people will go to elect unqualified candidates to the school board who are only there because of their color.

DeKalb Inside Out

October 10th, 2012
5:00 pm

Pride and Joy
I agree, minorities vote in block for candidates of the same race. Interestingly, when given the choice between multiple candidates of the same race they are all drawn to the same Dilhole

All of these candidates were black.

DeKalb District #5 BOE Race in 2010:
Kirk Nooks – B.S. and M.B.A from Mercer and Ed.D. from George Washington
Jacques Hall – Perimeter College student
Cunningham – functional illiterate and convicted felon with high school education

2010 BOE election results
Jay Cunningham – 64%
Jackques Hall – 24%
Kirk Nooks – 12%

Cobb History Teacher

October 10th, 2012
9:47 pm

@Withheld for Obvious Reasons

Before you blame teachers with “too much” education take a look at what society has become. Better yet spend a week in a classroom and do some observations. We have a society of “entitlements” who are fed way too much reality TV. There was a day and time when students came to class paid attention and behaved, and this allowed them to learn so much more. Now we give them excuses like “they can’t learn because they’re not entertained” or learning needs to be fun. Try telling that to your employer and see what you get. After the incredulous look they’ll probably show you the door. Lots of parents complain about discipline until it’s their child that needs to be disciplined then it’s “he/ she was just kidding” or my favorite “my child would never do that” (yes they never would do that in front of you, out of site out of mind). Stop entitling students, stop placating them with no grade lower than a 60, and let them fall on their face once and a while. Generally you learn more from your failures than you do your successes.

Cobb History Teacher

October 10th, 2012
9:51 pm

@Dr. Proud Black Man

I liked your comment: “IT’S THE ONLY WAY to increase my salary without becoming an administrator or joining the reprobates over at central office.”

I don’t think anyone went into education taking a vow of poverty. I do believe one thing that would help is if the “reprobates over at central office” were made to go back into the classroom on an annual basis as part of their professional development this might just impact some of their policies they so happily make from behind their mahogany desks.

Tuckergirl

October 10th, 2012
10:19 pm

“A brighter approach would have been an MBA program in finance and management, so that future superintendent candidates would have a solid fiscal background.”

It’s a dream I have but I don’t think it’ll ever happen in Dekalb. (sigh)

Having worked at an educational non-profit and attended a number of “school improvement” conferences, I have witnessed what I like to call “the Doctor Effect”. You probably know what I’m taking about.

I attended a reception sponsored by USA Today at one of these conferences. Witnessing so many “elite” educators with doctorates (some questionable, some not), I noticed how many expected to be fawned over for this title. As if they were royalty. It was as if sticking “Dr.” in front of their names elevated them to some elite level the rest of us (with master’s degrees) could never hope to attain. Some had probably not seen the inside of a classroom in years, if ever.

For all the parading of degrees and fancy business suits/jewelry/nails, and expensive cars, many of them can’t even spell. It’s sad but it’s true. Once you start talking to them, you realize that there’s not a lot of substance behind the impressive sounding facade.

No, not all educators/administrators (and I use those terms loosely) are like that. I can appreciate the hard work done and experience that so many have gained from attaining their doctorate from a reputable institution. And I admire that. I’ve seen how it can make a good teacher an even better one. It is definitely happening.

But many of the ones I’ve encountered (especially in Dekalb) are little kids playing dress up in Mom’s fancy clothes. It’s all a show.

N. GA Teacher

October 12th, 2012
10:27 pm

One of the cherished beliefs held by professionals of all fields is lifelong learning, especially educators. States used to pay(and SHOULD) for continued education for employees (at least one course per semester). Generally, the schools with the most highly educated teachers were the best. Advanced administrative degrees are a different animal, as the added knowledge and specialization does not transfer directly to the classroom. It can definitely be argued that some degrees are valuable for some admins, such as an accounting masters for the chief business officer, or a technology masters for the central office director of technology, or a HR or psychology masters for the HR director. The doctoral degree is a degree primarily meant for college teachers or researchers. The traditionally respected doctorate involves a grueling four years or more full-time in residence at a major university. Candidates master their subject areas, learn to be competent researchers, publish, and usually teach undergraduate courses as T.As. UGA and Georgia Tech professors all have these types of degrees, as do most other university or college professors. The online doctorates that have been gaining in favor the past fifteen years, that allow students to continue working at full time jobs and not have to move to campus sites are viewed with very cynical eyes by university professionals. It does seems that, with the huge problems facing DeKalb and other districts, that paying admins to get doctorates should be the least of their worries. Based on what I have read on this blog, they should be investing in smaller class sizes, better discipline, and trimming administrative ranks rather than further educating them, which they could do on their own.