In September, the Board of Regents will be asked to approve a university program offering a masters degree to individuals with a content bachelors degree who take merely teaching methods coursework to become a secondary teacher. Other Kansas universities will likely follow with similar programs if it is approved.
This scheme should not be approved because it: 1)economically insults regular classroom teachers who pursued regular bachelor degrees and completed additional depth in a bonafide masters, 2)deflates the value of bonafide masters degrees, 3)ensures that such teachers will not pursue additional depth in their field of teaching, and 4)leaves Kansas taxpayers paying premium prices for regular teachers. Offering a masters degree for teacher education courses is a marketing ploy to recruit folks with non-teaching bachelor degrees into alternative teacher programs. Universities would give away a masters degree for completing the same methods coursework that they have required of regular undergraduate preservice teachers. The education courses are re-numbered to graduate level, but they have the same methods content and serve the same function.
But we need content teachers who not only learn their field at the bachelors level, but who go back for more depth in English or math or science.. Only a bona fide masters degree accomplishes that. In Kansas, over half the biology teachers have masters degrees and that helps them to understand new developments and deliver interesting and updated coursework with confidence. A teacher who already has been given a masters for undergraduate education methods has no need to pursue that additional depth.
Every regular Kansas teacher will recognize how unfair this will be on their pay scale. These alternative teachers, given a masters degree for their education methods courses, are still rookie teachers. But they will start at the masters level pay scale, about $1500–2000 higher per year. And unlike the one-time hiring bonus used to attract teachers in shortage areas, this pay differential will remain year-after-year and compound with percentage raises. For some Kansas veteran teachers who studied for their advanced degree, this pay injustice may become another reason that drives them into early retirement.
For Kansas taxpayers, this is paying-more-for-less. Teacher pay scales vary across Kansas districts, but an alternative teacher given this empty masters will cost state taxpayers from $60,000 to $80,000 more over their teaching career than the bachelors-level teacher who received the same training. Across these teachers’ careers, Kansas will be paying an extra million dollars for every 15–20 produced. And if these programs are to have any effect, we will have to hire hundreds of teachers. Just as Kansans shouldn’t pay premium prices for regular gas, they should not be paying higher-rank salaries for rookie teachers.
If Kansas finds a successful alternate route to teaching, it should not be at the high cost of awarding empty masters degrees. A masters degree is supposed to be a start on advanced study, not an entry level union card into the profession. If this is approved, the academic value of a masters degree declines dramatically.
John Richard Schrock trains biology teachers and lives in Emporia.