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REL Central Ask A REL Response

Teacher Preparation

August 2019


How does receiving a master’s degree in the content elementary and secondary teachers are teaching impact student achievement?


Following an established REL Central research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles to help answer the question. The resources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic databases, and general Internet search engines. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. We have not evaluated the quality of the references provided in this response, and we offer them only for your information. Also, we compiled the references from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant sources may exist.

Research References

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
Full text available at

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.”

Subedi, B. R., Reese, N., & Powell, R. (2015). Measuring teacher effectiveness through hierarchical linear models: Exploring predictors of student achievement and truancy. Journal of Education and Training Studies, 3(2), 34–43. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“This study explored significant predictors of student’s Grade Point Average (GPA) and truancy (days absent), and also determined teacher effectiveness based on proportion of variance explained at teacher level model. We employed a two-level hierarchical linear model (HLM) with student and teacher data at level-1 and level-2 models, respectively. Using the data from one of the largest urban school districts in the United States, the analysis identified several significant intervening and demographic predictors at the student level and two significant predictors at the teacher level. The percentages of variance explained at the teacher level ranged from 12% to 15% with ‘small’ to ‘medium’ effect sizes.”

Dobbie, W., & Fryer, R. G., Jr. (2011). Getting beneath the veil of effective schools: Evidence from New York City (NBER Working Paper No. 17632). Cambride, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved from
Full text available at

From the abstract:

“Charter schools were developed, in part, to serve as an R&D engine for traditional public schools, resulting in a wide variety of school strategies and outcomes. In this paper, we collect unparalleled data on the inner-workings of 35 charter schools and correlate these data with credible estimates of each school’s effectiveness. We find that traditionally collected input measures – class size, per pupil expenditure, the fraction of teachers with no certification, and the fraction of teachers with an advanced degree – are not correlated with school effectiveness. In stark contrast, we show that an index of five policies suggested by over forty years of qualitative research – frequent teacher feedback, the use of data to guide instruction, high-dosage tutoring, increased instructional time, and high expectations – explains approximately 50 percent of the variation in school effectiveness. Our results are robust to controls for three alternative theories of schooling: a model emphasizing the provision of wrap-around services, a model focused on teacher selection and retention, and the ‘No Excuses’ model of education. We conclude by showing that our index provides similar results in a separate sample of charter schools.”

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 ERIC 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.”

Ladd, H. F., & Sorensen, L. C. (2015). Do master’s degrees matter? Advanced degrees, career paths, and the effectiveness of teachers (CALDER Working Paper No. 136). Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research, National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER). Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“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.”

Leak, J. A., & Farkas, G. (2011, March). Effects of teacher credentials, coursework, and certification on student achievement in math and reading in kindergarten: An ECLS-K study. Paper presented at the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness spring conference, Washington, DC. Abstract retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract:

“In light of the strong correlation between Kindergarten performance and later cognitive and achievement outcomes, this paper investigates the link between student achievement and the educational background characteristics of Kindergarten teachers. This study will utilize the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K), a nationally representative dataset, in order to address the following questions: (1) Does a teacher having a master’s degree or higher have a positive effect on student achievement gains in reading and math in kindergarten compared to teachers with only a bachelor’s degree?; (2) Are there effects of teacher coursework in reading, math, and child development on student achievement gains in kindergarten? If so, do impacts of coursework on reading and math scores vary by number of courses taken?; and (3) Do regular and highest certification levels for teachers have a different effect on student achievement gains than no certification or alternative certification? Does being certified as an early elementary school teacher matter for student achievement? Additionally, this study will analyze students who score in the bottom 25% of all students on the initial tests of reading and math to see whether teacher educational background characteristics make a differential impact on students that begin school at the bottom of the achievement spectrum. The ECLS-K started to track students in the 1998–1999 school year and tracks them through eighth grade. However, for the purposes of this study, the data will only be looked at for the Kindergarten year of 1998–1999 where tests and surveys were administered in the Fall of 1998 and Spring of 1999. The findings of this study suggest that most teacher credentials, or degrees, appear to have little impact on student achievement in reading or math in Kindergarten with some small significant effects (See Tables 2 and 3). This is consistent with the findings of others (Darling-Hammond, Berry, and Thoreson, 2001; Goldhaber and Brewer 1997). However, some previous studies such as Clotfelter, Ladd, and Vigdor (2007a) actually found negative effects of high-level degrees on student achievement, which was not the case in this study. The quantity of teacher coursework had mixed effects on student achievement (See Table 4). Regarding math achievement, teacher coursework in math and child development appeared to have no significant effects on math test scores. While the school level variable model does show significant results for math courses on student achievement, the school fixed effects model does not, suggesting that there are unobserved characteristics of schools that are not being accounted for in the school-level variable model. These findings are consistent with Croninger, et al. (2007) findings of no effects of teacher coursework on math achievement. The findings also suggest that the math and child development courses taken by kindergarten teachers are need improvement. Perhaps math courses in teacher education programs are not useful for kindergarten teachers if teachers from many grades are taught together. Teacher certification also appears to have a mixed effect on student achievement (See Table 5). Highest and temporary levels of certification appear to have a negative effect on reading and math test scores. However, the fixed effects models show no effects of highest or temporary certification on reading and math, but the direction of the coefficient is still negative. The findings also suggest that alternative certification has no effect on math scores, which contradicts the findings of Lutz and Hutton (1989). Elementary certification has a significant positive effect on student math scores. Certification in other education levels may not touch upon aspects of behavior, development, and other skills that are especially important in Kindergarten. This relationship of elementary education certification and math should be explored further to help identify the aspects of elementary education certification that may have an impact on teaching students math in Kindergarten.”

Reid, M., & Reid, S. (2017). Learning to be a math teacher: What knowledge is essential? International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 9(4), 851–872. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“This study critically examined the math content knowledge (MCK) of teacher candidates (TCs) enrolled in a two-year Master of Teaching (MT) degree. Teachers require a solid math knowledge base in order to support students’ achievement. Provincial and international math assessments have been of major concern in Ontario, Canada, due to declining scores. Research aimed to investigate the development of TCs’ math capacities for effective teaching is important to teachers, school districts, universities, professional learning associations, and policy makers. The researchers of this study analyzed the basic numeracy skills of 151 TCs through pre- and post-tests. In addition, eight TCs took part in semi-structured interviews and shared their experiences in the MT math program. Test results indicated improvements in many areas, however, not all numeracy skills improved significantly. Interviews revealed TCs’ perceptions of the math test, courses, and instructors, as well as the importance of teaching math during their practicum placements. The researchers made recommendations to teacher education programs in areas such as: establishing minimum math competency standards, enhancing coherence between MT math courses and practicum placements, and providing additional support for TCs with low math proficiency.”


Keywords and Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • “Advanced teaching degree” AND “math scores”
  • “Master’s degree” AND content AND teaching
  • “Master’s degree” AND “student achievement”
  • “Math scores” AND “teaching degree”

Databases and Resources

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and Google.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

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

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published between 2009 and 2019 were included in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority was given to ERIC, followed by Google Scholar and Google.
  • Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were used in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types–randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive analyses, literature reviews; and (b) target population and sample.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Central Region (Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Central at Marzano Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Central under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0005, administered by Marzano Research. Its 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.