STANFORD, Calif. &

To strengthen recruitment and retention of quality teachers in public education, use the money currently spent rewarding teachers for extra credentials to give all beginning teachers higher salaries and larger raises in the first years of teaching. That way teachers will be rewarded for the strong improvement they make early in their career. So proposes Duke University economist Jacob Vigdor in the fall issue of Education Next.

Districts should employ an evidence-based salary schedule similar to the salary practices found in professions such as medicine and law, says Vigdor. "Doctors and lawyers reap the full rewards of competence in their profession within 10 years of entrance. Teachers must wait three times that long, even though evidence suggests that they become fully competent in their profession just as quickly," he points out.

Vigdor notes that the available evidence suggests that the connection between extra credentials (such as getting a master's degree) and teaching effectiveness is very weak. But the connection between a few more years of experience and teaching effectiveness is substantial. However, the effectiveness of a teacher does not change much after a teacher has been in the classroom for about five years.

"There is little doubt that credentials and additional years of experience beyond the first few years matter far less to teacher effectiveness than they do to teacher compensation as it is currently designed," Vigdor writes.

In North Carolina, as in most states, teacher salaries increase steadily with experience, while improvements in teachers' effectiveness as measured by student test-score gains rise quickly for just a few years and then level off. North Carolina teachers also receive rewards for attaining advanced degrees, and for becoming certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS).

A master's degree entitles a teacher to a permanent 10 percent increase in salary. Teachers with doctoral degrees earn a permanent 15 percent differential relative to those with bachelor's degrees, even though evidence generally shows that these credentials have little or no association with better student achievement. Teachers with NBPTS certification receive a permanent 12 percent boost in salary.

Although there is evidence to indicate that NBPTS-certified teachers are more effective, the student performance differential is probably not as great as the salary differential. The savings accrued by eliminating rewards for credentials that have no proven association with better student achievement could be invested back into starting salaries for teachers. Using data from the actual characteristics of North Carolina public school teachers, Vigdor anticipates that starting salaries could be increased by 25 percent with zero net cost to taxpayers.

Vigdor recognizes the impact his suggested reform model would have on academic institutions that grant advanced degrees to teachers.

Without the promise to teachers of a guaranteed salary increment, enrollment in master's-level programs would undoubtedly decrease. However, this could lead graduate programs in education to re-focus their efforts on improving teachers' ability to educate students. Were new evidence to indicate that these reformulated programs actually improve teacher effectiveness, the salary schedule could be amended to reward teachers who complete them.

An immediate transition to a new flat schedule would also have adverse impacts on teachers who lose their salary differentials. These impacts could be avoided by "grandfathering" existing teachers while placing newly hired teachers on the new schedule, an option that would cost taxpayers about $50 per family per year.

"Scrap the Sacrosanct Salary Schedule" now online at .

Jacob Vigdor is associate professor of public policy studies and economics at Duke University and a faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Education Next is a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution that is committed to looking at hard facts about school reform. Other sponsoring institutions are the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.