The Sheepskin Effect and Student Achievement: Deemphasizing the Role of Master’s Degrees in Teacher Compensation

Here’s a jarring statistic from analysts Raegen Miller and Marguerite Roza: In 2007-08, states spent $14.8 billion on pay bumps for teachers with master’s degrees, which—time and again—have proven to be entirely unrelated to instructional effectiveness. In perspective, this equates to $217 per pupil—and marks a 72 percent increase since 2003-04, the last time Miller and Roza crunched these numbers. This “master’s bump” affects states differently: Six states (all with powerful teacher unions, including Illinois, New York, and Ohio) allocate $400-plus per-pupil as a reward for this additional credential (in cost-adjusted dollars). Eight (predominantly right-to-work states like Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah) spend under $100. Interestingly, the size of a master’s bump had no statistical relationship with the percentage of teachers acquiring such degrees. Miller and Roza recommend a two-pronged approach to developing a sleeker, more productive teacher-salary structure. First, scrap policies that automatically confer extra pay for master’s degrees (or that require advanced degrees for full licensure). Second, push master’s programs to compete on merit: Use teacher-assessment data to rate their effectiveness and encourage graduate programs centered on performance assessments (like the Relay Graduate School of Education and the Urban Teacher Center) rather than seat-time requirements. Good ideas both—and even more so when budgets are tight.

SOURCE: Raegan Miller and Marguerite Roza, The Sheepskin Effect and Student Achievement: Deemphasizing the Role of Master’s Degrees in Teacher Compensation (Washington, D.C.: Center for American Progress, July 2012).

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