FEA’s claim on masters’ degrees is not supported by the literature they quote

It’s not my intention here to argue that masters’ degrees are useless for student achievement.  But I will argue that a statement in the FEA report released Monday, “Effective Teachers and Performance Pay,” is far from being well established by the literature they quote.

Here it is:

Myth #4: Master’s degrees do not matter for student achievement, and as such, should not be used to
pay teachers more.

Facts: Master’s degrees in the content teachers teach actually do matter for student achievement.

And the last sentence is footnoted with two reports,

“The mystery of good teaching: Surveying the evidence on student achievement and teachers’
characteristics,” by Dan Goldhaber in Education Next, Vol. 2, No. 1, pgs. 50-55 (2002), and

“How and why do teacher credentials matter for student achievement? Working paper 2,” by C. Clotfelter, H. Ladd, and J. Vigdor  (March 2007). Washington, DC: The National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research. Retrieved January 5, 2011 from http://www.caldercenter.org/pdf/1001058_teacher_credentials.pdf.

Here’s what they actually say.

From Goldhaber:

The evidence is somewhat mixed, but it suggests that teachers’ knowledge of their subject matter, as measured by degrees, courses, and certification in that area, is associated with high performance. Studies with more detailed measures of teachers’ education levels and coursework in subject areas found that, at least in math and science, academic preparation does positively influence student achievement. Having an advanced degree in subjects outside of math and science, however, does not appear to affect student achievement.

From Clotfelter et al.:

The estimates indicate that the teachers who received their degree prior to entering teaching or any time during the first five years of teachers were no less or no more effective than other teachers in raising student achievement. In contrast, those who earned their master’s degree more than five years after they started teaching appear to be somewhat less effective on average than those who do not have master’s degrees. Whether this negative effect means that those who seek master’s degrees at that stage in their career are less effective teachers in general or whether having a master’s degree makes them less effective cannot be discerned with complete confidence from this analysis. The observation that the earlier master’s degree has no effect, however, suggests that the negative sign is more attributable to who selects into that category than to any negative effect of the degree itself.

If I were working for Politifact, I’d rate the FEA claim about masters’ degree as half-true at best, and maybe worse.  In any event, the claim that “Master’s degrees in the content teachers teach actually do matter for student achievement” remains an unsupported assertion.

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