Teacher Preparation Opinion

Degrees, Compensation, and Teacher Effectiveness

By Emily Douglas-McNab — April 04, 2013 1 min read
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While researching compensation data last week, I stumbled upon some interesting information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics about the relationship between degrees, earnings, and employment. It is no surprise to see in the chart below that educational attainment is a strong predictor of employment and earnings.

However, I dug deeper into the BLS data to find that 47 percent of individuals with a master’s degree, professional degree, or doctoral degree currently work in the “education and health services” industry. The “professional and business services” industry is the second highest in educational attainment with only 17 percent of workers earning an advanced degree.

For decades, school districts have rewarded educators for earning advanced degrees with salary increases and/or bonuses. At this point the research is mixed about the relationship between degree attainment and teacher effectiveness. Some researchers have found a weak or conditional relationship, while others have discovered no connection between advanced degrees and student achievement. If you’re interested, here is a sampling of research on the topic:

• The 2010 report, "Human Capital in Boston Public Schools: Rethinking How to Attract, Develop and Retain Effective Teachers" from the National Council on Teacher Quality, shares the results of a meta-analysis of 17 different studies (and 102 "unique estimates"). The authors note, "Out of 102 statistical tests that were examined, 64.7% (n=66) of the estimates indicated that teachers' advanced degrees did not have any significant impact on student achievement. On the other hand, 25.5% (n=26) indicated a negative effect, and 9.8% (n=10) suggested a positive effect of teachers' advanced degrees on student achievement." • In a 2007 study of Chicago public school teachers, Aaronson, Barrow, and Sanders found that only 10 percent of the variance in student learning and teacher effect could be explained by teachers' experience, credentials, degrees, or the college or university they attended. • In another 2007 study, Clotfelter, Ladd, and Vigdor noted "that having a graduate degree is not predictive of higher achievement compared to having a teacher without a graduate degree." • In a research synthesis, Goe (2007) concludes that a teacher's course taking and degree attainment in mathematics are positively correlated with student achievement in mathematics, especially at the high school level. While content specialization and degree in other subjects have not been found to be strongly correlated with student achievement, Goe acknowledges that these other subjects have not been researched to the extent that mathematics achievement has been addressed. • In a 2005 paper by Hanushek, Kain, O'Brien, and Rivkin, the authors note that when looking at test scores of fourth through eighth graders in Texas, there was no correlation between teachers with master's degrees and student gains. • In 2003, Jennifer King Rice reviewed five studies (Summers and Wolfe, 1977; Ratledge, 1979; Murnane and Phillips, 1981; Harnisch, 1987; Link and Monk, 1994) and found that the impact of advanced degrees at an elementary school level is mixed, yet, "evidence suggests that teachers who have earned advanced degrees have a positive impact on high school mathematics and science achievement when the degrees earned were in these subjects." • Betts, Zau and L. Rice (2003) found differences across grade levels and subjects. At the elementary school level, holding a master's degree as a teacher had a positive, statistically significant effect on student achievement gains in math, but the effect was not significant in reading. Conversely, at the high school level, holding a master's degree or Ph.D. had a positive, statistically significant effect on reading gains, but not in math. • According to a Center for Educator Compensation Reform research synthesis, "Goldhaber and Brewer's (1997, 1998) analyses of the 1998 National Educational Longitudinal Study also revealed that high school students assigned to teachers who held master's degrees in mathematics made greater gains in mathematics achievement than students whose teachers did not have advanced degrees or who held advanced degrees in other subjects. Similarly, high school teachers with bachelor's degrees in science were also more effective at increasing student achievement in science than teachers who taught science but either had no degree or a bachelor's degree in a non-science subject. Subject-specific degrees had no effect on student achievement in English or history, however."

As researchers continue to investigate the connection between degree attainment and educator effectiveness, it will be interesting to see how districts respond with their human capital decisions. If your district is already using this information or similar data to inform human capital decisions, please share your story below.

For more information on talent management in education you can follow Emily on Twitter: @EmilyDouglasHC.

The opinions expressed in K-12 Talent Manager are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.