Kentucky drops the masters degree requirement for teachers: What you need to know

I’ve seen a lot of concerned and angry responses in social media to yesterday’s decision by the Education Professionals Standards Board (EPSB) to drop the long-standing requirement that Kentucky teachers earn a master’s degree (or equivalent) by their tenth year of service. There seems to be some confusion and misinformation about this change, where it comes from, and what it will do. In this post I’d like to provide some background and perspective. While this change of policy has big implications for university educator preparation programs (like the ones where I work at Western Kentucky University), I believe the net impact will be positive for teachers and for teacher professional development overall.

As always, let me be clear that I am speaking solely for myself in what I write here. My perspectives are mine alone and do not reflect the opinions of anyone else affiliated with WKU (where I am professor of educational administration, leadership, and research) or the Kentucky Board of Education (where I serve as a member; note also that KBE has no role in this decision by the EPSB to change the Master’s degree requirement).

Kentucky’s pay and rank system

First, it’s important to know that Kentucky is fairly unusual in requiring teachers to earn a master’s degree, but it is very common for school districts across the country to pay teachers more when they do. Under Kentucky law, individual school districts establish teacher pay scales, but they are required to differentiate pay for teachers based on both years of experience and “rank.” In Kentucky’s unique language, Rank 3 means a bachelor’s degree, Rank 2 is a master’s degree (or an equivalent, “planned fifth year” program), and Rank 1 is 30 credits of graduate coursework in a planned program beyond the master’s degree.

Kentucky teachers were required by regulation to earn Rank 2 by the time they’ve been teaching 10 years, and districts usually pay about $5,000 more per year when they do. Teachers could voluntarily choose to go ahead and earn Rank 1, and most districts again pay teachers around 5,000 additional dollars to those who do. Over the course of a career, these pay bumps for Rank 2 and Rank 1 can add up to a sizable salary difference.

Yesterday the EPSB voted to waive the requirement that teachers earn Rank 2. It now becomes a voluntary option for teachers who would like to earn more money in their district, just like earning Rank 1.

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