The Value of a Master’s Degree for Teachers: Better Student Outcomes

Featured Stories Updated March 2, 2017

Intuitively, it makes sense for teachers to continue their education beyond their bachelor’s degree and earn a master’s degree or higher. But does it add up logically? We looked at the latest research on the subject and found a master’s degree benefits not only a teacher’s paycheck and job prospects, but it also improves their performance in the classroom.

Here are the top benefits of pursuing a master’s degree, as distilled from the research.

Strong marketplace demand for master’s degrees

Employers are increasingly requiring college degrees from employees, not only in the education field, but in all industries. The most profound increase is with the call for more job applicants with master’s degrees and higher.

The total jobs requiring a master's degree will increase 21.7% from 2010 to 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Improved job security

Earning a master’s degree provides more job security over professionals with only a bachelor’s degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the unemployment rate for people with master’s degrees is 3.5 percent versus 4.5 percent for those with a bachelor’s degree.

Better job security: unemployment rates for people with master's degree versus people with bachelor's degree.

Teachers with master’s degrees earn higher salaries

A bigger paycheck is certainly an incentive for many educators to pursue a master’s degree. The BLS reports that a master’s degree bumps up a teacher’s salary by 10 percent. For example, in 2013-2014, the average salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree was $48,440, whereas a teacher with a master’s degree earned $60,830 on average.

Teachers with master's degrees earn 10 percent more on average than teachers with bachelor's degrees.

Improved student test scores

The latest report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the largest nationally representative assessment of student performance, provides compelling context as to the importance of master’s degrees for teachers — since 2005, students in grades 4 and 8 taught by teachers with a master’s education scored higher on standardized math and reading assessments than students whose teachers hold only a bachelor’s degree.

Students of teachers who hold master's degrees consistently outperform students of teachers who hold only bachelor's degrees.

Mary Jane Pearson, PhD, former regional director for the U.S. Secretary of Education, offers additional insight into this topic:

“There has been a lot of discussion about the characterization of Education’s New Normal suggested by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in his Letter from Secretary Arne Duncan to Governors (2011). At first, the New Normal was typified as ‘doing more with less’ (Duncan, 2011). Now, the conversation is focused on how to evaluate teachers and whether those determined to be most effective should receive a bigger paycheck. Several states have adopted student performance as one of the variables that is considered in evaluating a teacher’s effectiveness (National Council on Teacher Quality, 2013). Many educators will agree that maintaining one’s status as an effective teacher takes both commitment and access to meaningful resources.”

“What America’s students know and can do is measured and reported by the largest nationally representative assessment, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), carried out by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in the U.S. Department of Education. Incorporated in the NAEP data collection, for grades 4 and 8, is a teacher questionnaire that includes a question regarding the highest academic degree held (U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, NCES, NAEP).”

“The 2015 NAEP results support what has been observed in every assessment since 2005: Children who are taught by a teacher with a master’s degree consistently score higher on the NAEP reading and math than children whose teacher holds a bachelor’s degree (Nation’s Report Card, 2015). This data confirms that holding a master’s degree can be another resource teachers can draw on to positively affect their students’ performance in reading and math.”

Here are charts of student test scores in math and reading assessments for grade 4, by the highest academic degree held by teachers.

Math Grade 4

Reading Grade 4
Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015 Math and Reading Assessments

Growth in master’s degree attainment by teachers

If you pursue a master’s degree, you’re in good company as earning a master’s degree is growing in popularity among educators. The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) reports the number of master’s degrees conferred in educational fields has risen 45 percent since 2000.

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