Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Do K-12 Teachers Need Master's Degrees to Be Effective?

Kindergarten in session / Woodley Wonderworks CC BY 2.0

In Oregon, all newly licensed teachers (who already completed an accredited teacher education program, in addition to whatever subject matter course work might be required for teaching an academic subject in grades six through twelve) have six to nine years in which to earn a Master's degree (or complete a comparable quantity of graduate education) if they wish to retain their teaching license. This is true from Kindergarten through grade twelve. 

After reviewing a number of non-licensure graduate programs in education in the Portland, Oregon area, I began wondering about the following:

1. Are such requirements necessary? What is an elementary school teacher going to glean from a Master's in Ed program that will be worth the $18,000-40,000 cost (not to mention the opportunity cost of losing a year of income, if undertaken full-time) in terms of teaching efficacy and/or financial return?  If the accredited teacher-prep programs don't provide adequate preparation in pedagogy, why aren't those being scrutinized for revision instead, so that new teachers have the tools they need when they first enter the classroom? 

2. Are such requirements sensible in terms of national fiscal policy? With Direct Loan balance forgiveness available after 10 years of public service work post-degree, is the return on a teacher's Master's worth the cost to tax-payers?

3. Are such requirements wise from a staffing standpoint? With new teachers already opting out of teaching at a problematically rapid rate, baby boomers retiring, and 11,880 Kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, and high school teacher openings anticipated to arise in Oregon between 2010 and 2020, should we have what appears to be a substantial barrier to retaining licensure in the profession?  [For a sense of perspective, that 11,880 represents a little over 1/3 of the 33,976 K-12 teachers who were employed in Oregon as of 2010. Source this paragraph: Oregon Labor Market Information System, excluding pre-K, Special Ed, and vo-tech, links embedded above.]

4. When did this requirement come into being? From reviewing the ORS (regulations), it appears that this requirement came into being with rules promulgated to enact ORS 342, resulting in "Division 60: 21st Century Teaching Licenses," effective on January 15, 1999. I haven't examined the enabling statute, so I do not know whether it actually imposed the graduate degree (or grad-degree-equivalent graduate training) requirement specifically.

5. How widespread are these requirements?  I suspect that No Child Left Behind and the NGA governor-led reform efforts leading up to NCLB's implementation had something to do with this, but have yet to confirm.  There are close to 4 million K-12 teachers nation-wide.

6. Is there any research to support the notion of requiring K-12 teachers to complete graduate study equivalent to a Master's degree (or higher) as a condition of continued licensure?  Absent evidence that actual, measurable benefits accrue to teachers and their students from these requirements, they would seem to do little more than enrich universities and private providers of teacher education.

On the plus side, it appears that under the newer system, those interested in becoming middle school and high school teachers may be able to avoid having to take a number of undergrad prerequisites in order to satisfy subject-matter endorsement requirements, if, they can show that they possess the skills and knowledge necessary to be an effective teacher in the subject by passing an ORELA subject matter test without doing so.  It is still generally necessary to complete a licensing education program, including practicum experiences (student teaching) which can take 9 to 12 months (full-time) if one already has a Bachelor's degree.  But that's better than preceding licensing ed with a year or more of chasing prerequisites from a local community, junior, or other local college (and the cost involved), so this change should make teaching a more attractive option to those seeking to make a career change in their 30s or beyond.

This essay by Stanford Education Historian David Labaree discusses the evolution of K-12 teacher education in the US, and what he terms an "uneasy relationship" between the programs meant to train professional educators and the desires/needs of "the university." I suspect that he would tend to share my skepticism about the wisdom of such continuing licensure requirements.

Universities can (and do) respond to the marked increased demand for graduate education that comes with requiring teachers to complete a Master's degree. But does it do much good for anyone or anything other than those universities' bottom lines?

No comments:

Post a Comment