Reinventing history: teachers earn master’s degrees through unique program

FIU’s Department of History has refined the way it teaches teachers how to teach history. Now the department hopes to establish a permanent master’s degree program for today’s history teachers.

“Graduate programs are normally targeted at historians,” said History Professor Kenneth Lipartito. “They’re not really about being a teacher. We’re trying to help people understand that we need to rethink graduate education for teachers.”

constitutionThe concept stems from a program Lipartito and his colleagues developed in 2007. The department secured a grant from the federal government’s Teaching American History Program. While most grant recipients focused on workshops to help advance America’s history teachers, FIU created a program that enabled Miami-Dade County teachers to earn master’s degrees. The program was set up as a cohort and provided convenient scheduling. Lipartito said it made more sense to put teachers with fellow teachers. The program also took them beyond the classroom, offering hands-on experiences in archives, historical resource centers and even the Library of Congress. To complete their degrees, all the teachers-turned-students were required to complete original research. The end goal, according to Lipartito, was to change their understanding of History.

The custom degree program saw 20 Miami-Dade County Public School teachers earn their master’s degree in 2010. FIU received a second Teaching American History grant to help another 20 teachers. While the success of FIU’s program was evident, so was the national economic recession at the time. Funding for the Teaching America History Program was not included in the 2011 federal budget so the second cohort was also thought to be the last for FIU.

But in 2011, department officials heard about a similar grant program through the Florida Department of Education. With a proven model already in place, the History department applied and received a grant from the state. Over the years, the efforts of FIU’s history faculty are having the intended trickle-down effect. Students of the teachers enrolled in the program are realizing the benefits of their teachers’ advanced degrees. Data collected from Miami-Dade County Public Schools shows students in the classes of these teachers are actually exhibiting higher test scores, on average, and doing better in overall in history classes.

“The experiences that teachers have had through these opportunities have yielded very positive learning outcomes with our students,” said Robert Brazofsky, director of the Department of Social Sciences with MDCPS. “With a curricular focus on primary source document analysis and rigorous research methods, teachers in the master cohorts have been able to provide similar experiences to their students and create a love of history and increase student learning skills overall.”

With continued inquiries coming in and interest in the program growing, the department is hoping to establish a permanent master’s program at FIU designed for history teachers. While the proposed degree program is still in the planning stages, Lipartito said it’s time to take the proven model to scale. Since 2007, nearly 60 MDCPS teachers have earned their master’s degrees in history from FIU.

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