President Obama’s recent push for a “Master Teacher Corps” initiative in STEM subjects made quite a splash in the media recently, and it’s easy to see why. The program sounds appealing and has its priorities in order: The best science and math teachers in America would receive a stipend of up to $20,000, both as a reward for their service and in exchange for their continued leadership in district professional development.

The feds have tried to fix teacher quality in STEM dozens of times. What makes this program anything new?

Unfortunately, there’s little reason to think such an initiative would be particularly effective (and plenty of reason to believe it will be costly). According to an April 2011 GAO report, the administration spent over $4 billion on teacher-quality programs in FY 2009 alone. A December 2011 report from the White House’s National Science and Technology Council found that over $3.4 billion was spent on STEM-education initiatives in FY 2011, and twenty-four separate federal programs dealt specifically with improving educator performance. Improving teacher quality in STEM subjects was a secondary goal for 101 other programs. The feds have tried to fix teacher quality in STEM dozens of times (and at the cost of several billion dollars), and there’s been no transformative change yet. So what makes this program anything new?

Effectiveness aside, there’s no guarantee the Master Teacher Corps will ever get off the ground. Within their own base, Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will need to tread lightly around prominent teacher unions that have historically opposed paying teachers of certain subjects—i.e., STEM—more. Furthermore, Duncan only has about $100 million on hand to implement the program; the rest of the money must still be appropriated. Since the Republican leadership shot down Obama’s FY 2012 budget proposal because of the price tag, they won’t be anxious to approve a new billion dollar expense. We’ll end up with yet another noisy fizzle, one with the same goal as 124 other programs.

Kai Filipczak was a summer 2012 research intern at the Fordham Institute.

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