Kentucky’s Education Professional Standards Board (EPSB) voted on Monday approving a waiver that removes the requirement for teachers to complete a Rank II – a move that will provide districts with greater flexibility and support in recruiting and retaining teachers.
Most Kentucky teachers earn Rank II by completing an EPSB-approved Master’s degree program. Before Monday’s action, Kentucky educators were required to obtain Rank II by the second renewal of their five-year professional certificate.
“EPSB’s waiver is a positive step for districts and teachers,” said Wayne Lewis, Interim Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education and the Executive Secretary of the EPSB. “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.”
The vote was a result of a recommendation of a committee composed of stakeholders representing both public and private higher education, school district administrators and teachers that reviewed expanding options for Rank II.
Senator Joe Bowen, who fought hard for the pension reform bill last year on behalf of educators, said, “I think it’s a good move. It certainly doesn’t keep someone from getting their master’s degree or Rank II,” but it does offer educators a choice, and those who pursue a higher level of education will continue to be compensated through a higher salary.
Bowen said that in his almost 10 years with the legislature, many teachers seemed to be “at odds” with the need to be on a time table to achieve a master’s degree. Bowen says he has encountered many teachers that were effective, qualified classroom educators that held bachelor’s degrees.
In his mind, this decision indicates that the voices of educators have been heard and that the legislature has responded accordingly.
Superintendent of Owensboro Public Schools, Dr. Nick Brake, realizes there are pros and cons to this decision, but he says, “I am hopeful that this will have a positive effect in recruiting teachers.”
Brake said that although the research is not supportive of a master’s degree equating quality in the classroom, and the return on investment (student loan debt) is no longer what it once was, teachers will still have the opportunity to receive a Rank II pay increase once attaining their master’s degree.
Kentucky Education Association President, Stephanie Winkler 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, Kentucky teachers have always felt a sense of pride because all students in the Commonwealth are taught by highly qualified professionals.
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.”
Nikki Sims is a teacher at Seven Hills Preschool. Nikki completed her Master of Education with an emphasis in Learning and Behavioral Disorders last Friday and learned of the waiver on Monday.
Sims requested two provisionary certifications during the degree coursework due to the birth of her children, sees the benefits of eliminating a state-imposed timeline for completion of a master’s degree.
However, she agrees with Winkler that eliminating a master’s degree requirement is lowering the bar and the standard for teachers.
“How do we tell our children to get the most education they can when they’re lowering the standards for us?” Sims questioned, “How do we preach it when we don’t practice it?
Sims said this decision by the EPSB will not stop her from continuing her education. She is still pursuing her National Board Certification and intends to continue toward her doctorate.
Additional information about Monday’s board meeting can be found on EPSB’s website.