Kentucky Dropping Its Master’s Degree Requirement: A Win For School Quality?

Kentucky is a hectic place to be right now. Teachers and other state employees across the Commonwealth are fighting for their pensions, which are subject to massive changes at the behest of Senate Bill 1. Major reforms are being made to our accountability system, so there’s a steep learning curve ahead. We’ve just witnessed forty public school teachers announce their candidacies for state office in the face of budget cuts, which is just bonkers.

And in spite of those things, Kentucky teachers are still expected to be role models, high-quality instructors, devoted team players, gifted counselors, and enforcers of high expectations. Oh, and we have to get a Master’s degree on top of all that.

I spend a lot of time thinking about how effective our schools are, and since I’m actually working on a Master’s degree myself, that seems like a great place to start. In spite of conventional wisdom, I don’t think requiring teachers to get their Master’s is actually that much of a win for school quality. In fact, there’s a fair chance that it’s the other way around. Here’s how.  

Master’s Degrees Don’t Make Better Teachers

It’s often just assumed that teachers with Master’s degrees are a plus for school quality. They’ve had more formal training, so their teaching should be more sound than that of their peers, right? Well, not quite.

In fact, evidence shows that teachers with Master’s degrees aren’t actually any more effective than those without. When you look at the same teachers’ test scores before and after they got their Master’s, there’s virtually no difference.

Even if they’re not aware of the data, most teachers are aware of that reality. I’ve talked to plenty of teachers who say they would gladly skip out on their Master’s if they had a choice. They feel like their degree is just a receipt -proof that they really did, in fact, pay $10,000 just to keep their teaching certificate. All of this, but the research is consistent: having a Master’s degree has essentially no impact on student achievement. So how could we turn that around?

Money Talks. Let’s Make It Louder.

A study from the Center for American Progress showed that Master’s degree pay raises are costing states billions of dollars in funding that could be used otherwise, and if you haven’t noticed, Kentucky already stands to take a major hit in this year’s budget proposal. Now read that sentence again and see if you can spot the solution.

There will always be highly-motivated teachers out there who will want to pursue advanced degrees, but with fewer overall teachers getting these pay raises, the state would have more funding to hire and retain effective teachers. Given Kentucky’s chronic teacher shortage in high-need areas like math and science, this would be a dream come true. And even more, with the funding we would save from Master’s pay raises, we could reinvest our efforts into offering quality professional development, purchasing textbooks and instructional resources, and, you know, doing things that actually improve schools.


Photo by Berry College-CC.

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