Dropping advanced degree requirement is bad for educators, Kentucky teachers’ group says

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Gov. Matt Bevin’s reconfigured teacher licensing board immediately drew complaints about its first major decision, dropping a requirement that teachers get advanced degrees to stay employed.

“During a time when we are supposed to be encouraging students to think of themselves as college and career ready, even beginning in kindergarten, it seems counterintuitive that our certifying authority would publicly state that it sees no value in having teachers earn an advanced degree,” Kentucky Education Association President Stephanie Winkler said after the change.

Teachers in Kentucky no longer have to obtain an advanced degree under a decision made Monday by Kentucky’s Education Professional Standards Board, the state entity that oversees educator preparation and certification. Bevin put the formerly independent board under the control of the state education department earlier this month.

Kentucky teachers advance through their careers — and get more pay — by obtaining additional training and education.

Most Kentucky teachers earn higher Rank II designations by completing a standards board approved master’s degree program or obtaining other national certification, Kentucky Board of Education officials said. Before Monday’s action, Kentucky educators were required to obtain Rank II by the second renewal of their five-year professional certificate.

Wayne Lewis, interim commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education and the new executive secretary of the standards board, said the change was a positive step.

“While many teachers will continue to pursue Rank II with either a master’s degree or through a continuing education option, they will now be permitted to make the choice to do so and to pursue that advancement on their own personal and professional timelines,” Lewis said.

But Winkler said the rollback of the master’s degree requirement “based on the recommendation of a political appointee, proves what we all know: elections have consequences. Educators across the state will remember in November.”

The teachers’ group and the Republican governor frequently have been at odds for months over several issues, including teachers holding mass rallies at the Capitol over pensions and education funding.

On Tuesday, for example, Bevin on The Tom Roten morning show on Louisville’s WVHU radio, blamed the KEA for teachers’ pension problems.

“It’s not our teachers themselves,” Bevin said, noting that he had several relatives who were teachers. “...I understand why people are nervous and scared. They are being done wrong by the KEA. The KEA takes millions of dollars’ dues from hard-working people and then uses it to elect people who fleece them and who underfund them.”

In response, Winkler said, no KEA dues are ever given to candidates.

“KEPAC is the optional organization that our members can pay a separate fee for,” Winkler said. “KEPAC is the only organization that endorses candidates. KEA does not endorse or use dues for candidate contributions.”

Winkler in her Monday statement about the standard’s board said Kentucky is among a minority of states that require teachers to have advanced degrees.

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

“It certainly is undisputed that teachers are one of the more influential role models for students. Part of that modeling is respecting education for its own sake,” she said.

Kentucky Department of Education officials said the change will provide districts with greater flexibility and help with recruiting and retaining teachers. The vote came after a recommendation of a board committee that reviewed expanding options for achieving Rank II. The committee included people representing both public and private higher education, school district administrators and teachers.

Richard Day, a former principal at Lexington’s Cassidy Elementary School who now teaches in the college of education at Eastern Kentucky University said weakening teachers’ advanced education requirements “is not a positive step for kids.”

Day said the decision will be harmful to various college master’s education programs if fewer teachers seek the degrees. But the bigger concern is for children in Kentucky classrooms.

“This is the first major retreat from high standards that I can recall over my 46-year career,” Day said.

“The best (and richest) school districts will continue to incentivize advanced training for their teachers because they fully understand its importance,” Day said. “But poorer school districts may not be able to compete. I fully expect that over time, this deregulation will increase achievement gaps. It is another example of how poor kids and children of color can be underserved by the system,” Day said.

Kentucky House Democratic Caucus Leaders Rocky Adkins, Dennis Keene and Wilson Stone also issued a statement Tuesday asking the standards board to reconsider its decision “to lower the very qualifications that have made our teachers some of the best-trained in the country.”

“This is yet another backward step the administration has taken to undermine public education and those who have dedicated their lives to this profession,” the legislators said. “Simply put, our children and their teachers deserve better. We support any effort that would make it more affordable for teachers to complete long-standing educational requirements, but we cannot and should not accept any move that expects less professionally from our educators.”

The Democratic leaders asked for a study on the ramifications and said the public deserves to be heard on the issue.

Monday was the first regular meeting of the standards board since Bevin’s executive order moving it to the education department.

“The board retains the authority that it previously had. It is the entity entrusted with promulgating regulations for teacher certification and educator preparation,” said Lewis. The education department “now provides the staff function. It is more in line with what is happening across the country. I look forward to continuing to work with this board, and with teachers so that we can ensure that every student in the commonwealth has access to a high quality teacher.”

Kentucky teachers gathered again on the steps of the Capitol In Frankfort on Friday to deliver a message to state lawmakers about public education. See the crowd from the air.