Changes in teacher training proposed for NC

Major changes could be coming to North Carolina’s public university teacher training programs, which have seen a precipitous drop in students in the past five years.

At a daylong summit Tuesday that drew state leaders from all levels of education, seven proposals were unveiled that could alter the way teachers are trained at UNC campuses.

Crafted after a year of study by a committee of the Board of Governors, the recommendations include:

•  A longer, more intensive practical teaching experience for students, who would spend a year in schools and whose performance would be judged with an evidence-based evaluation tool.

•  A publicly available “UNC teacher quality dashboard,” which would collect and display statistics and results of teacher education programs by university.

•  A more selective way to recruit future teachers, by establishing a public-private scholarship program, and offering higher pay to those who earn advanced degrees in the content areas that they teach.

•  Better collaboration between universities’ arts and sciences and education schools, and stronger partnerships between universities and public schools.

•  A statewide expansion of a program that provides support and mentoring to new teachers.

The recommendations are necessary, say UNC leaders, at a time of sharp decline of people entering the teacher pipeline. In the past five years, enrollment has plummeted by 27 percent in the UNC system’s teacher education programs, which produce a majority of the state’s schoolteachers. In the past year alone, the drop was 12 percent.

“We have a crisis in North Carolina,” said board Chairman John Fennebresque. “The number of students seeking a career in teaching in our system – 4,300 – is significantly inadequate to meet the demand – 10,900.”

Speakers at the conference pointed out that the falling interest in the profession is a national problem that is playing out more acutely in North Carolina.

Ellen McIntyre, dean of education at UNC Charlotte, said visits to high schools indicate that plenty of students want to go into teaching, but their parents dissuade them because of low salaries. And teacher turnover just exacerbates the problem, she said.

“Actually we prepare enough teachers,” she said. “We just don’t keep them. We do keep teachers in wealthy districts. We’re not keeping teachers serving kids in poverty.”

Though the legislature last year raised teacher pay, especially for early career teachers, political and legal battles have raged over education policy in recent years. The legislature dropped master’s degree salary supplements and put an end to “career status,” also known as tenure. The N.C. Teaching Fellows Programs, a highly regarded teacher recruitment program, was phased out.

The state’s Teacher of the Year, James Ford, a teacher at Garinger High School in Charlotte, said something must be done to turn around negative notions about the profession.

“First and foremost, we need to make sure that millennials are impressed enough with this profession that they see it as something they’d like to go into,” he said.

Gov. Pat McCrory – making an appearance at the event at SAS, the Cary software company – said teachers should be eligible for promotions, based on performance, without having to become administrators.

There was no dollar figure attached to Tuesday’s proposals, which are likely to be approved by the UNC Board of Governors in February.

Several lawmakers attended the summit and said they liked the recommendations – even reviving some version of the programs recently terminated.

Rep. Craig Horn, a Republican from Union County, said his mind has been changed on some things, including the idea that master’s degrees in some fields – particularly science, math and technology – do matter for teachers. Earlier data was misleading, he said. On the scholarship issue, he suggested that the state could come up with a new program, perhaps a hybrid Teaching Fellows and Teach for America, which provides teachers in poor urban and rural schools.

“We all bear some responsibility,” Horn said of teachers leaving the profession.