June 8, 2011
Kevin Carey of Education Sector has an interesting post today entitled “3 Universities, 12509 Master’s Degrees in Education.” He searched the IPEDS database and found that three for-profit (and mostly on-line) universities — Walden University, The University of Phoenix – Online, and Grand Canyon University, conferred 12,509 master’s degrees in education in 2009.
He wonders whether there is real value in those degrees, specifically whether the learning that has taken place on the way to those degrees leads to better teaching in schools on the part of those who earn those degrees. He has his doubts:
[R]esearch suggests little or no relationship between having a master’s degree and being a more effective teacher. Teachers get them because they have to, not because they want to. Master’s degrees in education are high-volume commodity credentials and so it’s unsurprising that for-profit companies have aggressively moved into a market where standardized curricula + economies of scale + federal student aid = gigantic profits.
I am a strong supporter of teacher preparation that involves a subject matter B.A. degree coupled with a high quality Masters degree in education. (At Earlham, we have a small, intense M.A.T. Program and also offer an M.Ed. degree associated with the M.A.T. Program.) But I also recognize that there is considerable variation in quality among graduate programs in education, and that we know too little about which programs are effective.
Carey concludes, “as with so many things in higher learning, we don’t have enough fine-grained information about the quality of the education being provided.” Indeed we do not. And “…in the long run colleges themselves have to embrace the challenge of measuring quality in a public, comparable way. When demonstrable quality doesn’t sit at the center of the enterprise, other forces take hold.”