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Teacher's Educational Level
October 2019


What does the research say about the relationship between a teacher's education level and student achievement?

Ask A REL Response

Thank you for your request to our Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Reference Desk. Ask A REL is a collaborative reference desk service provided by the 10 RELs that, by design, functions much in the same way as a technical reference library. Ask A REL provides references, referrals, and brief responses in the form of citations in response to questions about available education research.

Following an established REL Northwest research protocol, we conducted a search for evidence- based research. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, Google Scholar, and general Internet search engines. For more details, please see the methods section at the end of this document.

The research team has not evaluated the quality of the references and resources provided in this response; we offer them only for your reference. The search included the most commonly used research databases and search engines to produce the references presented here. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The research references are not necessarily comprehensive and other relevant research references may exist. In addition to evidence-based, peer-reviewed research references, we have also included other resources that you may find useful. We provide only publicly available resources, unless there is a lack of such resources or an article is considered seminal in the topic area.


Badgett, K., Decman, J., & Carman, C. (2013). National implications: The impact of teacher graduate degrees on student math assessments. National Forum of Teacher Education Journal,23(3), 1–18. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Researchers have called for greater levels of teacher preparation. There remains many questions about the extent to which graduate education contributes in a positive way to student achievement. The purpose for this research was to ascertain the extent to which teacher graduate degrees contribute to student math achievement as measured by Texas state math exams. Results of this research demonstrated master's degrees have only a limited positive impact on student math achievement. Further study is recommended."

Badgett, K., Decman, J., & Carman, C. (2014). The influence of teacher graduate degrees on student reading achievement. ASAA Journal of Scholarship & Practice, 11(1), 4–25. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"In a time of limited means and continued calls for higher student achievement, school leaders need to be wise in their use of resources. Earlier research has called for greater levels of teacher preparation, and, while many school districts provide greater compensation for teachers with graduate degrees, some districts have begun phasing out this type of compensation. Complicating the question of the value of compensating teachers for graduate training is an absence of quantitative data that supports or rejects the concept that teacher graduate education positively contributes to student achievement. The purpose for this research was to ascertain the degree to which teacher graduate training supports student reading achievement. Results of this research demonstrated master's degrees have a limited positive impact on student reading achievement. However, more study is needed."

Clotfelter, C. T., Ladd, H. F., & Vigdor, J. L. (2007). How and why do teacher credentials matter for student achievement (NBER Working Paper 12828). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Education researchers and policy makers agree that teachers differ in terms of quality and that quality matters for student achievement. Despite prodigious amounts of research, however, debate still persists about the causal relationship between specific teacher credentials and student achievement. In this paper, we use a rich administrative data set from North Carolina to explore a range of questions related to the relationship between teacher characteristics and credentials on the one hand and student achievement on the other. Though the basic questions underlying this research are not new - and, indeed, have been explored in many papers over the years within the rubric of the "education production function" - the availability of data on all teachers and students in North Carolina over a ten-year period allows us to explore them in more detail and with far more confidence than has been possible in previous studies. We conclude that a teacher's experience, test scores and regular licensure all have positive effects on student achievement, with larger effects for math than for reading. Taken together the various teacher credentials exhibit quite large effects on math achievement, whether compared to the effects of changes in class size or to the socio-economics characteristics of students, as measured, for example, by the education level of their parents."

Coenen, J., Cornelisz, I., Groot, W., Maassen van den Brink, H., & Van Klaveren, C. (2018). Teacher characteristics and their effects on student test scores: A systematic review. Journal of Economic Surveys, 32(3), 848–877. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"It has become widely accepted that teachers are important in facilitating student learning. Hundreds of empirical studies have tried to explain differences in student performance by evaluating the impact of particular teacher characteristics. Yet, this topic has not been the subject of a systematic review for more than 10 years, even though most of the empirical evidence has emerged over the past decade. This study provides an up-to-date review, drawing on empirical findings from several countries and distinguishing between acquired and sociodemographic teacher characteristics. This review confirms the existing consensus that subject-related degrees and knowledge, and not general teacher certifications, are positively related to student performance and particularly so for Master's degrees in math and science. A new insight is that recent findings point out that teacher experience continues to contribute to student test scores throughout a teacher's career, instead of merely the first few years. An important future research avenue would be to examine which mechanisms can explain these teacher characteristic effects."

Harris, D.N., & Sass, T. R. (2007). Teacher training, teacher quality, and student achievement (CALDER Working Paper No. 3). Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research, National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER).

From the Abstract:
"We study the effects of various types of education and training on the ability of teachers to promote student achievement. Previous studies on the subject have been hampered by inadequate measures of teacher training and difficulties addressing the non-random selection of teachers to students and of teachers to training. We address these issues by estimating models that include detailed measures of pre-service and in-service training, a rich set of time-varying covariates, and student, teacher, and school fixed effects. Our results suggest that only two of the forms of teacher training we study influence productivity. First, content-focused teacher professional development is positively associated with productivity in middle and high school math. Second, more experienced teachers appear more effective in teaching elementary math and reading and middle school math. There is no evidence that either pre-service (undergraduate) training or the scholastic aptitude of teachers influences their ability to increase student achievement."

Horn, A. S., & Jang, S. T. (2017). The impact of graduate education on teacher effectiveness: Does a master's degree matter? (MHEC Research Brief). Minneapolis, MN: Midwestern Higher Education Compact. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Many school districts and states have long encouraged teachers to pursue graduate education. Teachers are frequently permitted to use graduate credits for recertification (Hill, 2007), and teachers with graduate degrees generally earn a higher salary or receive an annual stipend (Miller & Roza, 2012). Advocates have argued that graduate education may improve teacher effectiveness (e.g., Harris & Sass, 2011) and raise the status of the teaching profession (e.g., Sahlberg, 2015). The purpose of this brief is to examine the prevalence of graduate degrees among teachers in the United States and to summarize research on the relationship between teacher educational attainment and student achievement. Main findings include: (1) Among early childhood, primary, middle, and junior high school teachers, those with a master's degree do not have a larger effect on student reading achievement, relative to teachers with only a bachelor's degree; (2) The effect of master's degree attainment on student reading and math achievement during high school remains unclear; and (3) Overall, past research depicts a complex, poorly understood relationship between teacher educational attainment and student outcomes that may vary by such factors as level of schooling, academic subject, and major-course congruence."

Jacob, A. (2012). Examining the relationship between student achievement and observable teacher characteristics: Implications for school leaders. International Journal of Educational Leadership Preparation, 7(3) 1–13.

From the Abstract:
"The literature on effective schools emphasizes teacher quality as a critical input for improving student outcomes. Teacher certification status, years of experience and possession of a graduate degree are three factors commonly taken into consideration when assessing teacher quality. With the advent of advanced measurement tools, however, principals and other school leaders have an additional means to assess teacher quality. Rigorous evidence is assessed to determine the potential merits of value-added measurement tools to assist principals in developing teacher talent and making staffing assignment, development, and retention decisions."


Keywords and Search Strings: The following keywords, subject headings, and search strings were used to search reference databases and other sources: Environmental literacy, Definition, Environmental education

Databases and Resources: We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and EBSCO databases (Academic Search Premier, Education Research Complete, and Professional Development Collection).

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

Date of publications: This search and review included references and resources published in the last 10 years.

Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority was given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, as well as academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, and Google Scholar.

Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references:

  • Study types: randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, and policy briefs, generally in this order
  • Target population and samples: representativeness of the target population, sample size, and whether participants volunteered or were randomly selected
  • Study duration
  • Limitations and generalizability of the findings and conclusions

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by stakeholders in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northwest. It was prepared under Contract ED-IES-17-C-0009 by REL Northwest, administered by Education Northwest. The content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.