Apparently there is such a thing as a free online master's degree.
If you're a Texas middle school math or science teacher, you may be eligible for a free online education master's from the University of Houston. The Texas university is offering a new "Integrated Science, Math and Reflective Thinking"—abbreviated as "iSMART"—online degree program to an initial group of 25 teachers. Both math and science teachers who are certified in Texas are eligible for the tuition-free online degree.
The free online degree project at the University of Houston Online Graduate School of Education is underwritten by the Greater Texas Foundation, an education charity, which donated $3 million to the school. The foundation's goal for the program is to prepare and increase the number of qualified middle school math and science teachers in Texas.
The new, two-year master's degree will be different from traditional math and science master's programs because it will combine and integrate the teaching of the two subjects, rather than provide separate instruction.
Teachers will learn online, and be expected to develop in-depth content knowledge and leadership skills through web-based course collaboration with other students.
Program activities for this new online master's degree are expected to include: analyzing and writing curriculum; analyzing theories of learning and models of integration of science and mathematics; studying children's thinking of content; and reflecting on video of teachers' own practices.
"This program takes strong teachers from across the state and rewards them with a free graduate program," said Jennifer Chauvot, assistant professor of math education at the University of Houston. "They will learn models of teaching that show how the subjects can be integrated, develop curriculum they can incorporate into their teaching, and learn from each other so that they can be leaders on their campuses."
To qualify for consideration for this free online education degree, teachers must have been a practicing middle school (sixth through ninth grade) math or science teacher in Texas for at least three years. They must also intend to continue teaching during the two-year program. Applicants also must meet University of Houston graduate admission requirements.
The online education school plans to teach groups of 25 teachers, starting in the summer of 2010, and continuing each summer through 2013. The online grant money will be disbursed over the next six years.
The university will begin accepting applications for the first group of online graduate students in January 2010. All courses are offered online in a simulated classroom environment but teachers must be able to come to the Houston campus for a week-long orientation each summer of enrollment during school recess.
To apply, or to be added to the program's email list, visit the University of Houston's College of Education iSMART program
Affordable Online Education Master's Beyond iSMART
If the iSMART degree is not for you, keep in mind there are many affordable online education master's available from other accredited graduate schools. Consult the Get Educated rankings of affordable online teaching degrees and degrees for educators. These online degrees are very low in cost—some cost less than $9,000 (depending on your residency status).