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  • Jordan Harris

Requiring Teachers to Have Master's Degrees Doesn't Benefit Students

Kentucky made some national news today in announcing that the Education Professional Standards Board voted to remove the unnecessary requirement for teachers in Kentucky to get master's degrees. Strangely, there has been some push back from labor unions despite the head of the KEA saying just last week that the organization did not have a position on the issue and acknowledging that the requirement did not improve student outcomes.

Research has long been clear that there was no benefit to students in requiring teachers to obtain master's degrees. Here are just a few peer-reviewed articles and studies spanning multiple decades for good measure:

1990: Should National or State Level Technology Standards be Required for Today's Teachers? a piece published in the Journal of Teacher Education concluded that “There is insufficient evidence to warrant requiring all teachers to obtain a master’s degree. The empirical research offers some modest support for the master’s degree, but these findings are not strong. The costs of obtaining a master’s degree, whether borne by teachers or employers, are substantial. When these factors are considered in light of the impact this requirement would probably have on teacher education programs and teacher attrition from the profession, it seems unwise to commit resources to extended teacher education programs.”

2000: Teacher Quality and Student Achievement: A Review of State Policy Evidence by Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University compared staffing surveys from the 1992-1993 school year with NAEP scores in all 50 states. The author measured whether outcomes were positive or negative for multiple variables. Education levels, such as percentage of teachers with master's degree showed "less strong relationships with education outcomes."

2007: A National Bureau of Economic Research working paper titled How and Why do Teacher Credentials Matter for Student Achievement examined data from North Carolina found that "Many American school districts pay teachers with master's degrees substantially more, even though a number of studies -- including this one -- suggest that having a master's degree has little if any effect on student achievement."

2011: A report, published in the Economics of Education Review authored by Matthew M. Chingos and Paul E. Peterson of Harvard University, found that "neither holding a college major in education nor acquiring a master's degree is correlated with elementary and middle school teaching effectiveness, regardless of the university at which the degree was earned."

Pegasus Institute has long supported eliminating the master's degree requirement specifically because of research like this, and many more studies that have found the same conclusions. The requirement forced teachers to take on unnecessary debt while giving no net benefits to students. Our position is unchanging and we applaud the Education Professional Standards Board for removing the unnecessary obligation.

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