Bill Gates makes the claim that Masters degrees don't increase the ability of teachers in his TED talk.

What are the characteristics of this top quartile? What do they look like? You might think these must be very senior teachers. And the answer is no. Once somebody has taught for three years their teaching quality does not change thereafter. The variation is very, very small. You might think these are people with master's degrees. They've gone back and they've gotten their Master's of Education. This chart takes four different factors and says how much do they explain teaching quality. That bottom thing, which says there's no effect at all, is a master's degree.

Is this true?

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    The OP is quoting something which Gates says at about time 13:00 in the talk.
    – ChrisW
    May 15, 2011 at 17:57
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    Added citation from transcript.
    – Sklivvz
    May 15, 2011 at 19:18
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    It could be that the sort of people who tend to get their Master's tend not to be the better teachers in the first place, and so it could have an effect but not a correlation. May 15, 2011 at 19:36
  • @David and, most likely on the other hand, teachers who are already awesome at what they do and know it may tend not to go back to school for Master's degrees, believing that the purpose of such degrees are to make them awesome teachers (and thus unnecessary or of marginal utility to someone who is already awesome). Apr 3, 2018 at 14:45
  • @RobertColumbia : The fact that a teacher is good doesn't mean that further eduction couldn't theoretically improve his teaching. Additionally, a masters degree frequently results in higher pay for a teacher and that's a motivation for teacher to get it.
    – Christian
    Apr 4, 2018 at 9:19

1 Answer 1


He says that being a 'top teacher' (however that was measured) doesn't correlate with having a master's degree.

That's not quite the same thing as saying that getting a master's degree won't make you better.

It's saying that it's something other than a master's degree (and, he said a few seconds earlier, something other than long experience, too) that's important.

  • 1
    I've added the verbatim transcription in the OP, maybe you want to revise the answer (which, by the way, is not referenced)? ;-)
    – Sklivvz
    May 15, 2011 at 19:25
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    @Sklivvz - I'm referencing the TED talk which you cited. No I don't want to revise the answer. In the context, "no effect" means "no statistical effect": no correlation between the population of top quartile teachers and the population of people with Master's degrees. That's not to say that getting a Master's doesn't improve an individual's teaching: only that their teaching still isn't then necessarily any better than others', who don't have a Master's.
    – ChrisW
    May 16, 2011 at 5:04

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