Removing master’s degree requirement for Kentucky teachers will allow for additional flexibility, Interim Education Commissioner Lewis says

On Monday, Kentucky’s Education Professional Standards Board (EPSB) voted to approve a waiver that removes the requirement for teachers to earn their master’s degree within the first ten years of teaching in order to move to Rank II, a state certification which allows teachers to obtain a higher salary.

After the announcement of the decision, many mixed reactions were expressed by education groups and teachers on social media platforms.

In an interview with The Bottom Line Tuesday, Interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis said Kentucky teachers who have already obtained a masters degree or plan to do so will continue to earn Rank II as they previously have been able to, including an increase in salary.

Lewis added the decision simply removes the requirement to get a master’s degree in order to move forward, noting most other states do not require teachers to attend graduate school. He stated he believes it will give additional flexibility to educators to reach Rank II in other ways as well as encourage local districts to offer other professional development options.

“We don’t want to impose requirements that have significant financial burdens on teachers—first of all, understanding that they have come into the profession, many of them, with significant debt, and second, impose a requirement that there’s really no good rationale for, when there’s no definitive proof that engaging in this costly endeavor is going to in fact improve your practice,” Lewis said.

“When you get to the place, whether that’s in two, three, four, five, or ten years where you want to pursue that master’s degree and advance your education, you go for it. But you don’t need to do that because the state has required that of you.”

When asked what he says in response to those who believe the new decision will lower educational standards in Kentucky, the interim education commissioner said he believes the state should be focused more on educational outcomes “rather than the intense focus we’ve had in the past on teachers earning credential after credential and adding things to their resume.”

Lewis stated the department will be continuing work with EPSB to think about teacher effectiveness and look at ways to support and incentivize Kentucky teachers and build an education system that rewards success in the classroom (discussion at 7:20 in the video below).

There have been other previous proposals to remove this requirement including Senate Bill 74,  introduced and sponsored by Sen. Danny Carroll in the 2018 session, which the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce opposed.

Watch the full segment with Interim Commissioner Lewis on the decision, how it is able to be done outside of legislation, and much more below (discussion of potential JCPS takeover after the video):

Also making headlines in recent months is the potential for the state Board of Education to intervene in the performance of the Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) after an audit found more than 30 significant deficiencies in the district.

There has been much back and forth between Lewis and JCPS about the potential state “takeover” where the local school board would continue their normal business but the state would also have a final say in any decisions made about the district. This has been done in Kentucky previously with Breathitt and Menifee Counties currently being managed by the Kentucky Department of Education.

Action on a settlement offer recently extended to the district by Lewis is ongoing and as recently as Tuesday afternoon, JCPS was reviewing the most recent response from KDE. Lewis stated he hopes they can reach an agreement on the issue to avoid an unnecessary and long legal battle.

“I believe it would be in the best interest of the students in Jefferson County, for teachers and staff, and of the community in Jefferson County if the district and the [Kentucky Department of Education] can come to an agreement. If we began this hearing that is scheduled to start on September 10th, it will not be pretty,” Lewis said. “I am very hopeful conversations will continue and we can avoid what would begin in September.”

Hear the discussion with Lewis on the latest news involving the performance of Jefferson County Public Schools in the video below:

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Jacqueline Pitts
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