Master's Degree and Student Achievement

February 28, 2020 • Keith McLemore

Master’s Degree and Student Achievement

Expansive research by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) provides evidence that a teacher’s attainment of a master’s degree has little to no impact on student achievement.  

Rewarding a teacher’s willingness to further their education through the attainment of a master’s degree is a long-standing fixture in public school compensation strategy. While it would be hard to argue that there aren’t any tangible benefits associated with a graduate degree, NCTQ’s research, and research from the Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC), begs the question of whether this money would be better spent elsewhere.

By NCTQ’s approximations, it is estimated that every teacher in the country could earn an average of $2,488 more a year if the money spent nationally on general master’s degree stipends was redistributed equally among all teachers. While the math assumes something altogether impossible—withdrawing these dollars from those with the degrees for redistribution to all—a more believable scenario for repurposing the dollars would entail grandfathering the amounts currently paid, saving money through attrition, and not paying such stipends in the future.

Another scenario is using these funds as stipends for a master’s degree in a specific subject area. This strategy would also help address staffing needs for dual credit courses. MHEC’s research supports the idea that improved student achievement is associated with secondary teachers possessing advanced degrees in science and math, but only if they are also teaching those subjects.

Despite the research, districts, including those in Texas, have been reluctant to make major changes to eliminate stipends for advanced degrees in any subject area.

Keith McLemore is a compensation and HR consultant at TASB HR Services. Send Keith an email at

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Tagged: Compensation, "Employee performance", Salaries, "Teacher stipends"