Do Master’s Degrees Matter? Advanced Degrees, Career Paths, and the Effectiveness of Teachers

Lucy C. Sorensen

This study uses detailed administrative data on teachers and students from the state of North Carolina to revisit the empirical evidence on master’s degrees, with attention to teachers at the middle and high school levels.  It provides descriptive information on which types of teachers obtain master’s degrees, for which subjects, at which institutions, and during what phase of their career.  The study estimates returns to master’s degrees using teacher fixed effects to control for time-invariant characteristics of teachers, thus separating the effects of teacher decisions to get an advanced degree from the effects of having one.  Even with this careful attention to selection bias, we confirm the findings of prior studies showing that teachers with master’s degrees are no more effective than those without.  The only consistently positive effect of attaining a master’s degree emerging from this study relates not to student test scores but rather to lower student absentee rates in middle school. 

Aug 2015