Setting the Record Straight on Advanced Degrees 

by Dr. Candice McQueen


The Tennessee State Board of Education recently approved revised policies and guidelines regarding teacher salaries for the 2014-15 school year.  We have provided below a brief summary of the new policy and guidelines that we hope will be helpful to you in interpreting and understanding the new policy.  We have also included answers to some Frequently Asked Questions about certain misconceptions related to attaining an advanced degree.


The Tennessee State Board of Education recently approved revised differentiated pay guidelines for the 2014-15 school year.  The policy provides school districts with flexibility to develop and implement pay plans that meet their specific priorities, needs and context.  The Board also approved the state salary schedule setting a base or minimum salary for teachers with no experience and for teachers hired with advanced degrees.


State Minimum Salary Schedule: 2013-2014_State_Minimum_Salary_Schedule_Attachment.pdf

The new policy essentially means that districts are now required to spend the next several months determining local differentiated pay plans (DPP) that meet the principles set forth in the approved guidelines for differentiated pay.  Based on the timeline set by the state, each district must submit a DPP by February 2014 with approval notification in March 2014.  The new plans will be effective July 2014.  While districts have had the flexibility to create DPPs prior to this policy, it is now mandated.


DPP Guidelines:

Districts are required to create DPPs that are NOT SOLELY based on education attainment or years of experience AND that are NOT SOLELY based on additional pay for additional work.  The policy recommends that each district base a DPP on educator effectiveness and/or other specific criteria that may target strategic compensation for teaching high-need subjects or in high-need schools.  Districts also CANNOT set limits on the number of teachers who can receive awards.  

These guidelines can and will be interpreted differently across the state and in no way require districts to create plans that ignore advanced degree attainment.  It simply cannot be the ONLY measure used along with years of experience for paying teachers.

General FAQs as it relates to educational attainment or pursuing advanced degrees


1.  Does this mean that my degrees will not be recognized in salary decisions?

No, the state salary schedule has set a base pay that recognizes initial and advanced degrees in determining your base salary upon entry into a school district. 


2.  Does this new policy mean that I should not pursue an advanced degree?

No, this policy is requiring each school district in the state to create a DPP as described above during the next year.  The decisions on how advanced degrees will help determine salary and/or pay raises will be a local decision. 

Several districts in Tennessee already have a DPP in effect.  For example, Putnam County has a DPP that takes four areas into consideration as teachers earn points toward bonus pay.  These areas are learning, leadership, performance, and hard-to-staff positions.  In the area of learning, attaining advanced degrees earns points with more points being attained annually for attaining a content-specific degree in your teaching field or assignment (such as attaining an ELL M.Ed. or Ed.S. as an EL teachers or a Math Specialty M.Ed. if a math teacher).

Putnam County DPP: (click on Read our Brochure; see page 4 specifically as it relates to Learning points)

Several districts outside of Tennessee, such as Denver and Newark, have DPPs that give significant bonuses for completion of district-approved and aligned degree programs.  In addition, Houston’s DPP sets base salary increases (not just bonuses) on earning “relevant” advanced degrees as it relates to your teaching or leadership assignment.


3.  Should I wait to start an advanced degree until my district approves a DPP?

It depends on why you want an advanced degree.  If you are seeking an advanced degree for the sole reason of a pay increase, we encourage you to consider the many other benefits of obtaining an advanced degree. 

One of the expected changes that district DPPs are likely to include is that teachers will be paid bonuses for taking on various teacher-leader roles, working in hard-to-staff schools, and for improving student performance at both the school and individual level.  Training for teacher-leader roles, developing content expertise and improving student achievement are best developed through specialized learning and expertise that can be achieved through high-quality advanced teacher and leader preparation programs. 

Several years ago, Lipscomb’s College of Education began redesigning all graduate degree programs to align with specialized expertise and skills that increase teacher-leadership and student achievement. 

These advanced degrees are as follows:



Collaborative Professional Learning with Certificate in Instructional Coaching

English Language Learning with ELL Endorsement

Reading Specialty

Math Specialty

Instructional Technology with Certificate in Technology Integration Specialist

Leadership with Administrative Endorsement  

Special Education

Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) Certification Program (non-degree)

Board Certified assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA) Certification Program (non-degree)



Collaborative Professional Learning with Certificate in Instructional Coaching

English Language Learning with ELL Endorsement

Reading Specialty

Leadership with Administrative Endorsement   



Learning Organizations and Strategic Change


Each of these advanced degrees increases expertise and skills in teacher-leadership, in administrative leadership, in content areas and in improving student achievement.  We know that the advanced degrees you receive at Lipscomb will prepare you for any DPP criteria and bonus structure used in your school district.  Regardless of what DPP is approved by your school disctrict, obtaining quality advanced degrees will only improve your skills and ability to positively impact student achievement. 

Quality advanced degrees will pay teachers dividends over and over again regardless of any district’s DPP.  So, in light of AND in spite of the new policy, teachers should be advancing confidently into quality degree programs to not only improve their skills, but to open doors to new ideas and opportunities.