Every year, American schools pay more than $8.6 billion in bonuses to teachers with master’s degrees, even though the idea that a higher degree makes a teacher more effective has been mostly debunked.
Despite more than a decade of research showing the money has little impact on student achievement, state lawmakers and other officials have been reluctant to tackle this popular way for teachers to earn more money.
“Debunked?” Perhaps you find it surprising, as I did when I first studied the evidence, but this is a pretty well settled question. On average, teachers with masters degrees don’t get any better results than do other teachers. (Dan Goldhaber is responsible for some of the earliest research on the topic.) 45 percent of teachers have picked up master’s, leading to roughly $9 billion a year in extra pay. That’s $9 billion spent not very effectively. And don’t forget the hundreds of millions of hours of personal time wasted by teachers in earning useless credentials.
But be careful what conclusion you take from this. Teacher pay is too low–way too low! Paying for master’s isn’t a very good way of paying teachers, but at least it helps keep average salaries from being even lower. Redirect the masters’s-bonus into teacher paychecks in other ways? Great. Cut the bonus just to save money? Dumb, dumb, dumb.