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Education students can now earn dual degrees

by Richard Veilleux - February 4, 2008

The Neag School of Education has introduced a new dual degree program, in collaboration with the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, that gives students an opportunity to earn a teaching degree and, simultaneously, a degree in a specific discipline.

The dual degree program, offered through the school’s Integrated Bachelor’s/Master’s (IB/M) teacher education program, was created through the Teachers for a New Era Project.

Teachers for a New Era is a program designed to improve the quality of teaching in the United States.

UConn is one of only 11 universities in the nation selected by the Carnegie Corp. of New York for inclusion in the project.

Teachers for a New Era committee members developed the proposal to enable the dual degree, which was approved by the University Senate in December.

Nationally, educators and legislators have increasingly called for teachers to have degrees in the subjects they teach in middle and high school, rather than being thrown into classrooms to teach subjects in which they may have little or no expertise.

UConn’s Early College Experience program, which certifies high school instructors interested in teaching UConn courses in their schools, requires the teachers to have a degree in the subject area they wish to teach.

And more recently, the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which mandates that local districts employ “highly qualified” teachers, lists having a course-specific degree as one measure of meeting that standard.

“This is another way for us to help the children of Connecticut,” says Scott Brown, a professor of educational psychology and director of the Teachers for a New Era program.

“It’s a big win for our teachers.”

Mark Boyer, a professor of political science and curriculum director for Teachers for a New Era, says, “With this dual degree opportunity we are increasing the content knowledge of these future teachers, which will directly impact what goes on in Connecticut’s classrooms.

The excellence No Child Left Behind officials want when they refer to ‘highly qualified’ will be achieved through this program.”

Boyer and Brown have been working to develop the program for several years.

A stumbling block was that, although IB/M students already meet the general education requirements and earn extra credits in their specialty, they fall short of UConn requirements for earning two degrees in two schools.

These requirements mandate that students must earn at least 30 credits more than the highest minimum requirement of either of the degrees.

For students in the teacher education program, who spend at least six semesters as student teachers or working in a school district in clinical practice, meeting that requirement would almost guarantee they would have to return for a sixth year.

Not only would an additional year be costly, it really wasn’t necessary, says Brown.

“As it is, our students develop strong content knowledge in their specialties, and many of them already are earning close to the required number of credits,” says Brown.

“In math education, for example, they’re within two courses of meeting the requirement for a math degree. So we wanted to give them an opportunity to take more courses, but not make them take another 30 credits.”

Dual degrees also are within reach for students in music education, agricultural education, and a range of programs in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Ultimately the Senate agreed to add a paragraph to the existing regulation that waives the 30 additional credits for students who complete the requirements of both a teacher preparation degree in the Neag school and a bachelor’s degree in another school or college.

Alison Laturnau is a fifth year IB/M student who will earn a master’s degree in secondary English education in May. Upon hearing of the amendment’s passage, she immediately enrolled in a winter intersession course, and she’s taking two additional English courses this semester to complete a bachelor’s degree in English.

As a master’s degree student, that’s no small feat: besides the additional classes, Laturnau’s days include a 20-hour internship at the Connecticut International Baccalaureate Academy in East Hartford on Mondays and Wednesdays, classes and a graduate assistantship for Teachers for a New Era on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and additional classes on Fridays.

“I came to UConn because of the Neag School of Education, as well as the opportunities and resources for other majors available to students through ACES,” she says.

“At 18, I was unwilling to commit myself to a school that only had a great education program. I was concerned I would change my mind.”

Laturnau says the dual degree program is valuable because it opens the door for students to return to school to complete a master’s degree in their core subject.

Brown says students who haven’t yet reached their junior year will benefit most from the new rules. Within three years, he expects half of the students enrolled in the IB/M program will take advantage of the opportunity.

Brown is now scheduling training sessions for faculty and academic advisors to learn what’s needed to earn the dual degree.

He also is arranging a colloquium so that ACES advisors will be prepared to talk to pre-education majors about the program.

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