Lawmakers are questioning why some schools, including historically black colleges and universities, weren’t chosen to host a new state program designed to train future teachers.
Elon University, Meredith College, N.C. State University, UNC-Chapel Hill and UNC-Charlotte were selected for the N.C. Teaching Fellows Program, which is aimed at training teachers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, math or special education.
The five schools were selected by the N.C. Teaching Fellows Commission based on such factors as teacher effectiveness, internship experiences and passage rates for teacher licensure exams. But some Republican and Democratic state lawmakers complained at Tuesday’s Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee meeting about why schools they felt were equally qualified were not chosen.
“I too am perplexed that none of our HBCUs have made it when we’ve had many students graduate from our HBCUs that are very effective in the classroom,” said Rep. Bobbie Richardson, a Franklin County Democrat. “So I am saddened to hear that we have written legislation that has eliminated a great portion of our teaching population and also the teachers who would possibly have background experience that would be successful in relating to students who look like them.”
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More than 80 percent of North Carolina’s teachers are white, while white students account for less than half of the state’s traditional public school enrollment.
Sponsors of the legislation said they didn’t intend to exclude HBCUs and that they’d look at adding more schools once the new program is established.
“No matter who you choose there are going to be folks who didn’t make the cut this time,” said Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican and co-chair of the oversight committee. “It is the intent of the sponsors of this legislation and this concept that we’re going to continue to grow the teaching fellows. We had to start somewhere.”
The N.C. Teaching Fellows Program, created by the legislature, will provide scholarships to about 160 future teachers each year, starting in the 2018-19 academic year. It replaces a previous teaching fellows program that had been phased out in 2011. The new program is more targeted, with the goal of attracting students to go into teaching specialties where there are shortages.
Students in the program will receive up to $8,250 per year in forgivable loans if they commit to teach in a STEM or a special education area. Teachers have 10 years to pay back the loan, either through cash or loan forgiveness. Recipients have to serve a year in a low-performing school or two years in another public school for each year they received the loan.
The application period opened Monday. Go to https://ncteachingfellows.com/ for more information, including a link to the online application.
To determine which schools would host the program, the commission reviewed applications from 16 schools using criteria developed by lawmakers. The five schools with the top scores were chosen. Individual scores aren’t being released to avoid embarrassing schools, according to Sara Ulm, director of the teaching fellows program.
“There is no doubt among the applications there were a number of other outstanding institutions that by all standards would have been meritorious,” said Mary Ann Danowitz, chairwoman of the Teaching Fellows Commission and N.C. State’s education dean.
In addition to Danowitz, the commission included three other deans from educator preparation programs, teachers, principals, a member from business and industry and a local school board member.
Several legislators questioned why specific schools were not chosen. Sen. Chad Barefoot, a Republican from Wake Forest and co-chair of the committee, said this is why the selection process was turned over to an independent commission.
In addition to questioning the lack of HBCUs, Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram, a Northampton County Democrat, complained about the lack of host schools in Eastern North Carolina.
“It caused me deep consternation to see there is a great lack of geographic diversity,” she said.
Sen. Jerry Tillman, a Randolph County Republican, said he could not see why Appalachian State University was omitted when schools “not noted for their teacher preparation programs seem to have made the cut.”
Sen. Rick Horner, a Wilson County Republican, wondered why East Carolina University was not picked. But Horner said that while the five schools may not be to everyone’s liking, he’s glad the teaching fellows program is back.
“It’s a darn good start and I’m glad to be here today,” he said.