Study: Teacher Quality Not Linked to Advanced Degrees or Experience

Published March 12, 2013

An advanced degree and multiple years of teaching experience don’t necessarily make for a better teacher. A new study from the Tennessee Department of Education shows teachers with these qualities, which traditionally increase their salaries, don’t create better student achievement than teachers without them do.

“Previous research has consistently shown there is little to no correlation between teacher graduate degrees and effectiveness” as measured by what children learn in a school year, said Kelli Gauthier, a Tennessee Department of Education spokeswoman. “Similarly, research has shown that teacher effectiveness is not correlated with experience after the first five years in the classroom. This study reinforces those results. We have highly effective teachers who have master’s degrees and highly effective teachers who do not. We have highly effective teachers with many years of classroom experience and highly effective teachers with relatively few years in the classroom.”

The study is “important news,” said John Chubb, a Hoover Institution fellow and author of The Best Teachers in the World, because, unlike economists, education authorities have done little study of the relationship between teacher quality and inputs such as degrees and experience.

“At a time when school districts are struggling to make ends meet with fewer state and local tax revenues, it is especially important that districts ensure their compensation systems are aligned with the goal of student achievement, and therefore reward the most successful teachers—regardless of degrees or experience—and not pay based on factors that do not predict student success,” he said.

Skewed Incentives
The common practice of tying salary hikes to advanced degrees and extra college credits means “teachers tend to take the fastest, cheapest route to earning a master’s degree,” said Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality. “A far better system would be one which rewards teachers for being effective, with teachers themselves identifying the specific coursework that would help them become more effective.”

Salary schedules push bright young people away from teaching, Walsh said, because they are confident in their abilities and want to earn more for high performance rather than receive “relatively small incremental raises over the next 25 years.”

As of 2012, 20 states required counting student achievement as a significant or the most significant factor in judging teacher performance, according to NCTQ.

The study and related research emphasize the importance of Tennessee finding ways to select, reward, and retain teachers based on effectiveness rather than meaningless credentials,

Gauthier said. It also suggests the state needs to give current teachers better support and help improve teacher performance over time, she said.

Chubb is skeptical about the study making much difference in state policy, however.

“Years of academic research have not persuaded policymakers to alter compensation practices; here’s hoping a study from the Tennessee Department of Education will,” says Chubb.


Learn more:
“2012 State Teacher Policy Yearbook,” National Council on Teacher Quality, January 2013:

Image by Sarina Brady.