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Each school or its governing body is responsible for setting the pay schedules for teachers. As such, the pay difference between a teacher with a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree may vary by school, school board, county or state. However, teachers with a master’s degree consistently have higher pay than teachers with the same number of years of experience in the same specialty who only have a bachelor’s degree. Some schools and districts also require that teachers have a master’s degree in order to teach.
Average Salary Difference with Master's Degree
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that teachers with a master’s are likely to have higher salaries than teachers with a bachelor’s. According to the nonprofit group Education Next, that difference is about $2,500 — or 6.5 percent — after a teacher has taught for 10 years. Amy Scott of American Public Media's Marketplace questions whether teachers should get a raise for earning a master's since the additional degree may not translate into better teaching.
Average Salaries for All Teachers
To place the question in context, elementary school teachers across the U.S. earned an average of $52,240 per year, middle school teachers earned $52,570 per year and secondary education teachers made $54,390 per year on average in 2008 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Special education teachers earned an average of $50,0200 in elementary schools, $50,810 in middle schools and $51,340 in secondary education schools. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average salary for public school teachers for the 2007-2008 school year was $49,600, compared to $36,300 for private school teachers.
North Carolina Public Schools
The salary schedule for North Carolina Public Schools serves as an example of the types of salary differences between teachers with a bachelor's and those with a master's. For the 2011-2012 school year, teachers working for the North Carolina Public Schools with less than two years of experience and a bachelor’s degree earn an annual salary of $30,430 while those with a master’s degree earn $33,470 per year, a $3,040 a year difference. Teachers at the other end of their career, with a bachelor’s degree and 34 or more years of experience, earn an annual salary of $52,550, while teachers with a master's degree and the same experience earn $57,810 per year, an increase of $5,260 a year for having the additional degree. Teachers for the North Carolina Public Schools who have a National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certificate have voluntarily completed 10 standardized assessments designed to evaluate their level of teaching skills and abilities. They earn only slightly more for having this additional certification.
Denver Public Schools Example
Unlike North Carolina, each public school system in Colorado sets its own salary schedule. Pay levels are divided into “steps,” and teachers move up a step for every year of experience, even if the teacher has not worked in the Denver public school system. Teachers with a bachelor’s degree and less than a year of experience earn $37,551 per year while those with a master’s degree and the same experience earn $41,207 per year, an increased salary of $3,656 for having earned a master's degree. Teachers at Step 13 —the highest step — earn $52,154 per year with a bachelor’s, or $61,100 per year with a master’s -- an increased of $8,946 a year for having earned the master's degree. Teachers may have higher salary levels if they have additional certifications, regardless of whether they have a bachelor’s or a master’s degree.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Teachers—Kindergarten, Elementary, Middle, and Secondary
- Public Schools of North Carolina: 2011-2012 Salary Schedules
- Denver Public Schools: DCTA Salary Schedule
- National Center for Education Statistics: Fast Facts
- National Board for Professional Teaching Standards: What Is National Board Certification?
- Education Next: The Educational School Master’s Degree Factory
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Teachers—Special Education
- Bureau of Labor Statistics - Exploring Career Information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics -- 2010-11 Edition: Teacher
- All Education Schools: The Truth about Teaching Salaries
Carrie Belt has been a professional writer since 2004, focusing primarily on business, marketing and web writing. Her articles have appeared in "Richmond Magazine," "Boomer Life Magazine" and "Richmond Times Dispatch." Belt won three first-place Collegiate Gold Circle awards for her work. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in media arts and design from James Madison University.