Teacher ed goes online (and mostly for-profit)

Online teacher education is booming,reports USA Today, which has been crunching U.S. Education Department data.

Virtually unknown a decade ago, big online teacher education programs now dwarf their traditional competitors, outstripping even the largest state university teachers’ colleges.

. . .  four big universities, operating mostly online, have quickly become the largest education schools in the USA. Last year the four — three of which are for-profit — awarded one in 16 bachelor’s degrees and post-graduate awards and nearly one in 11 advanced education awards, including master’s degrees and doctorates.

A decade ago, in 2001, the for-profit University of Phoenix awarded 72 education degrees to teachers, administrators and other school personnel through its online program, according to federal data. Last year, it awarded nearly 6,000 degrees, more than any other university.

Most new teachers earn bachelor’s degrees in education at traditional colleges, such as Arizona State, the nation’s leader. “But online schools such as Phoenix and Walden University awarded thousands more master’s degrees than even the top traditional schools, all of which are pushing to offer online coursework.”

Of course, if districts stopped paying teachers more for master’s degrees, the master’s market would collapse.

For-profit colleges, hit hard by the Harkin report for high tuition and low graduation rates, do no worse than public colleges and universities that admit all applicants, a defender argues.

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  1. Most new teachers earn bachelor’s degrees in education at traditional colleges, such as Arizona State, the nation’s leader.

    This is not really true,or at least a bit misleading. Over half of education majors don’t become teachers, and the bulk of education majors that do become teachers are elementary school, special ed, and PE.

    Secondary school teachers in academic subjects usually majored in something else. One of the ways they can get quickly credentialed is through a master’s degree, which gives the master’s and the credential in one swoop. Most top tier ed schools are rated on their credential program, not their education major: Stanford, Teacher’s College, and so on. These programs are not taking on existing teachers who need a credential.

    So it’s completely untrue that the master’s market would collapse without the extra pay. People like me, who went to Stanford, didn’t go there because we wanted more money for the master’s degree (in fact, I already had one) but because it was the quickest way to a credential. And in California, unlike the CSUs, the UCs and Stanford didn’t require working in a public school for 40 hours or more simply to get into the credential program.

    As far as I can tell, the online market is focusing on two big chunks of teachers–first, the ones who are, in fact, going back to school to get the master’s for the money. But I don’t know how big a market that is. Second, the online market is taking on a lot of the TFA folks.

    In both cases, this allows online schools to punt on the student teaching requirement, which is extremely difficult to handle online. I’m not sufficiently versed in the details to know how the online schools otherwise handle student teaching, but my bet is that it’s all put on the student, which would make it very difficult.

    But again, it’s simply untrue to say that the master’s program is only kept in place by the existing teachers going back to school, and it’s also very misleading to say that most teachers become teachers through an ed school degree, since most people don’t think of “most teachers” as limited to elementary school teachers and the non-academic high school teachers.

  2. I’ve never read any evidence showing that master’s degrees make for better teachers–but I don’t want to get rid of the master’s pay bump, now that I’m starting my own master’s program next week.

    I’ll be honest, I’m doing it for the pay bump. And I’m paying for it out-of-pocket. Master’s in Teaching Math; 8 math courses and 2 education courses.

    I’m playing by the rules as they are today. I hope they don’t change the rules on me.

  3. There is no evidence that I know of saying master’s teachers make better teachers. I’m pretty amazed that anyone would fork out the money for a master’s if they already have a credential; at best it’s $2500/year for the master’s. You get paid for the additional credits no matter what. Besides, you don’t need to get the master’s in education. I have two master’s degrees, and have been paid for both of them in schools that pay for master’s.

    So if you want more money, then just go to school and take what you like. You get paid no matter what. Get a master’s in something that would be useful; again, you get paid no matter what and then you get the $2500 (or less, usually) for something that you care about.

    But none of this has anything to do with my point, which is that a lot of the “facts” in the article were either incorrect or misleading.

  4. Roger Sweeny says:

    Everything you say is true. However, I would add:

    1. Getting a Masters in Teaching can be pretty cheap. Many school systems will partially reimburse you. Education courses are offered by just about every state college, which means they are relatively cheap and easy to get to. Out of pocket costs may be darn small.

    2. It is hard to fail an ed course. Depending on how seriously you take it, the cost in time and effort may also be rather small.

    If that gives you $2500 more a year forever (including an increased pension), it can look like a pretty good deal.

    • True, and if there are several institutions that offer MEd degrees in an area (or even just two) they are competing for students and one metric is, how little work is required to get the degree. That’s not to say that none of the Ed courses are worthwhile, just that it is almost impossible to fail unless you just don’t show up or do any assignments.

  5. The outside world looks at it as evidence that teacher raises are based on nonsense. But to teachers, it’s just one more piece of evidence that money is “pay to play”. Teachers have to go to ed school to become teachers;it’s practically impossible to get an internship unless you have an in or a desperate school. Then they have to get inducted, which is usually out of their pocket these days. Then to get more money, they have to go to school, which usually costs them money, too.

    And all of this is one of several reasons why second-career teachers are usually discriminated against (they are almost always the last-hired) because they are incredibly expensive compared to other teachers. Most second-career teachers have tons of education, and then they had to add to that in order to get a credential/master’s.

    From what I can tell, the teachers who go to school are the young ones.It’s something they do in their 20s. Darren is a clear exception to the pattern I’ve noticed. I wonder if there’s any research, not on effectiveness, but on how many teachers go back to school, and when?

  6. Mark, I’m not sure you understand what I’m saying. I was asking about existing teachers.

    The average age of Harvard ed school students is, I’m reasonably certain, completely irrelevant. Harvard is not accepting existing teachers. Its ed school is like the one at Stanford. Students who had other careers, or majored in something else, go to the master’s program to get both their credential and their master’s degree.

    The students who go to school purely to get credit to increase their pay are the younger ones (is my speculation). But the only way to research this would be to see how many existing teachers applied for movement across columns and check their age.

    Roger–I am.