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Teachers in Kentucky No Longer Have to Earn a Master's Degree

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Kentucky officials have removed a requirement that teachers obtain master's degrees, sparking mixed reaction from the field. 

The state Education Professional Standards Board voted on Monday to remove the requirement that Kentucky teachers earn a master's degree by their 10th year in the profession. Now, there are only three states that require teachers to earn a master's degree (or its equivalent) for license advancement, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality—Connecticut, Maryland, and New York.

The board said this change will give districts more flexibility in recruiting and retaining teachers.  

Kentucky has five levels, or ranks, of teacher certification, starting with those holding emergency certificates and ending with those who have both master's degrees and National Board certification, or 30 semester hours of continuing education. Teachers who have a master's degree classify as Rank II. 

"While many teachers will continue to pursue Rank II ... they will now be permitted to make the choice to do so and to pursue that advancement on their own personal and professional timelines," said Wayne Lewis, the interim commissioner of the Kentucky education department, in a statement.

Earning a master's degree and moving into Rank II comes with a pay raise for teachers. The average teacher salary in Kentucky is $49,422, according to 2016-17 National Education Association data

The move by the standards board generated skepticism among many teachers on social media, with many saying that this devalued the profession. Some worried that this would lead to teachers being paid less. The decision was also not supported by the Kentucky Education Association. In a statement, KEA president Stephanie Winkler said it was "counterintuitive" to not want teachers to have earned an advanced degree.

"Although obtaining a master's degree during the first five years of teaching is a significant investment, Kentucky teachers have always felt a sense of pride because all students in the Commonwealth are taught by highly qualified professionals," she said. 

While some research has shown that having an advanced degree in the subject taught (mainly math and science) makes middle and high school teachers more effective, other studies have found that for the most part, teachers with master's degrees are no more effective than those without. In an interview with the Kentucky Chamber Bottom Line, Lewis said the state should be focused more on educational outcomes "rather than the intense focus we've had in the past on teachers earning credential after credential and adding things to their resume." 

Still, Democratic state House leaders have asked the standards board to reconsider its decision, calling it a "backward step" that "expects less professionally from our educators," according to the Lexington Herald-Leader

Richard Day, a professor in the college of education at Eastern Kentucky University, put it this way: "This is the first major retreat from high standards that I can recall over my 46-year career," he told the paper.

However, Gary Houchens, a Kentucky Board of Education member, wrote on his personal blog that getting rid of a "one-size-fits-all state mandate" will have a positive effect on teachers and their professional development.

"[T]his policy change simply gives teachers the opportunity to decide whether a master's degree is the right pathway for them individually," he wrote. "Most will do so, and will continue to be compensated accordingly. ... [T]hese kind of changes ultimately create more autonomy for individual educators and local schools to innovate and improve." 

This post has been updated with the states that require teachers to earn a master's degree for license advancement.

Image via Getty

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