Research and Policy: Master’s Degrees

Eric A. Hanushek
Published Date
Education Next
There are a variety of educational policies that simply conflict with research. One of the largest is pay for master’s degrees. Across the nation, extra pay for a master’s degree is deeply ingrained in the salary schedule. Overall, some ten percent of the total salary bill goes to pay bonuses to teachers who have master’s degrees. Yet one of the most consistent findings from research into the determinants of student achievement is that master’s degrees have no consistent effect. In other words, we regularly pay bonuses for something that is unrelated to classroom effectiveness. What does this bonus do? It induces many teachers to want to have a master’s degree. (Over half of all teachers have an advanced degree now.) Getting a master’s degree is frequently something done concurrently with a full time teaching job, so the last thing these teachers want is a challenging academic program that requires real work. As a result, schools of education are willing to sell master’s degrees that require minimal effort. Master’s degrees become a very profitable product. Everybody is happy – except perhaps the students who see resources going to things that have no educational value. If we cannot act on things that are so well-known and well-documented, how can we hope to do things that are more difficult and controversial?