Ohio ranks high in number of teachers with master's degrees

Eric Ulas

Ohio’s growing teacher corps has driven up the cost of education, especially as teachers’ salaries and pensions are by far the largest expenditure in K-12 education.

Also incredibly costly is the fact that 62 percent of Ohio teachers have at least a master’s degree, which is 18 percentage points higher than the US average and higher than all of the Buckeye State’s neighbors. (Kentucky has a high percentage of teachers with “specialist” degrees, which accounts for the tall red bar in the chart below.)

With the exception of math and science, there is no correlation between a teacher having a master’s degree and improved student achievement, so the master’s degree bump in salary is an expensive item for districts with little return on investment for their cash-strapped budgets.

Source:  IES National Center for Education Statistics, data from 2007-08

In Ohio’s “Big 8” cities, the number of teachers with at least a master’s degree continues to grow. In Cincinnati, that number has grown by almost 13 percent in just five years; in Dayton, by a whopping 20 percent; all other cities except Akron (which remains the same at 68 percent) have also seen a rise in the number of master’s credentialed teachers.

In Dayton, the spike in the percentage of teachers with master’s degrees didn’t result from more teachers earning their degrees or credentialed teachers joining the district. Rather, the increase came from district layoffs in the 2005-06 school year, followed immediately by a failed levy the next year that led to further cuts. This bout of layoffs axed the newest teachers and protected credentialed teachers (who are costlier but not necessarily more effective in the classroom), a reality that is being repeated in 2010 and which threatens to push younger, talented teachers out of the profession.

Source: Ohio’s interactive Local Report Card, 2004-2009

The growing number of educators seeking that piece of paper is no big surprise, given the current financial incentives in place and the value placed on things like paperwork and credentials in the profession. 

The master’s pay bump is worth several thousands of dollars to teachers, depending on their years of experience and what their contract stipulates. For example, for a teacher in Columbus City Schools with three years of experience, a master’s is worth $4200; for one with 10 years of experience, $5600. In Cleveland, those figures are $4200 and $9600, respectively.

Even without the financial motivation, Ohio teachers were required to eventually get a master’s degree to attain state licensure (this requirement changed last year with HB 1). For teachers, putting in the extra work required to attain a master’s degree certainly has been worth the opportunity cost, especially as many districts put aside a special pot of money to help teachers pay for continuing education.

Marguerite Roza, senior scholar at the Center on Reinventing Public Education and school finance guru, argues that states should end the master’s pay bump because there is little correlation between a teacher attaining a master’s degree and becoming more effective in the classroom. Despite no evidence that master’s degrees improve student performance (except in some cases, in math and science), states and districts continue to dole out for it.

A July 2009 analysis by Roza and her colleague Raegen Miller estimates that the master’s pay bump cost Ohio $460 million a year, or 2.7 percent of total expenditures on education in Ohio. As Ohio faces a crushing budget deficit of $8 billion as it heads into the biennium, it’s time for lawmakers and leaders to reevaluate the cost-effectiveness of the automatic master’s pay bump.

If there was ever a time to rethink how we do business, it’s now. Ohio needs to concentrate funds where it makes an actual impact on student achievement.

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