Degrees without Value

Published January 1, 2005

Although Linda C. Cavalluzzo’s recent study of teacher-student data from the Miami-Dade County School District was designed to throw light on the value of certification by the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, her study inadvertently exposed how little value graduate degrees add to teaching performance.

While teachers with National Board certification had a size effect on student achievement of about 7 percent, teachers with a major in the subject they were teaching–in this case, math–showed a much larger size effect of 11 percent. Teachers with graduate degrees had a size effect of only 2 percent. In other words, teacher graduate degrees–which are rewarded with much higher pay–make virtually no difference to student achievement.

The higher teacher pay triggered by the possession of a graduate degree has led some teachers to fraudulently claim pay increases by means of bogus degrees. In July, Georgia’s Professional Standards Commission revoked the teaching certificates of 11 Georgia educators who accepted pay raises with fake master’s and doctorate degrees from Saint Regis University, a Liberian-based institution that allegedly sells degrees without requiring coursework.

Table: Effect Sizes for Teacher Characteristics
(All else equal)
Characteristic Effect Size
Teaching In-subject +11%
National Board Certified +7%
HS certified in math +6%
Graduate degree +2%
Failed/withdrew from NBC -3%
Inexperienced -5%
Source: Cavalluzzo Presentation (page 18)
2004 National Conference on Teacher Compensation & Evaluation
November 2004

The Evergreen Freedom Foundation (EFF) recently attempted to get information on teacher qualifications from Washington’s 296 school districts. Only 65 provided the requested information. Of the 65 districts, five had a total of seven teachers claiming illegitimate degrees, such as Ph.D.s from Berne University in St. Kitts and LaSalle University in Louisiana.

“This data is troubling when one considers that, of the 22 percent of school districts that provided information, there are at least 7 degrees from ‘institutions’ unaccredited for use in qualifying for higher salaries based on degrees obtained,” noted EFF research assistant Sarah Carrico.

For more information …

The November 9, 2004 Policy Highlighter from the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, “Illegitimate ‘degrees’ being used by some teachers to obtain higher pay,” by Sarah Carrico, is available online at