By: Julie Kowal, Vice President of Policy & Research, BEST NC
The new North Carolina Teaching Fellows program is due to officially launch this month – and it’s a big deal. It’s an exciting opportunity for future teachers, for the students they will serve, and for North Carolina.
The new Teaching Fellows program is a teacher recruitment program designed to address critical staffing needs across the state while elevating the status of the teaching profession overall. At BEST NC, we’ve advocated for strategic investments in programs like these, because our business members know that great talent is key to the success of any organization.
The new Teaching Fellows program won’t look just like the original version that so many North Carolinians knew and loved. Unlike its predecessor, it will specifically target recruitment for the state’s hard-to-staff positions, cast a wider net for high-quality candidates, and – through its selection of five partner campuses this month – reward excellence in the university and school partnerships where teachers are prepared.
Like most states, North Carolina has a teacher shortage. But it’s primarily in specific areas: special education, STEM subjects, and high-poverty schools. In 2016, more than 75% of North Carolina’ districts reported staffing difficulty in high school math; 2/3 reported shortages in special education, and at least 50% reported staffing challenges in all other STEM subjects. If you’re a student in a high-poverty school, the data show that you have access to fewer highly-effective teachers across all subject areas.
And while the quantity of educators matters, quality matters at least as much. We know that the quality of teachers’ initial preparation is inconsistent across North Carolina. The teachers we prepare in-state are among our top-performers, but even within the UNC system, some institutions have a stronger record than others of preparing graduates who are ready to help students learn at high levels.
The new North Carolina Teaching Fellows program has big shoes to fill. The original program produced more than 8,500 teachers over its life cycle, and significantly “enhanced the human capital of the teacher workforce” in North Carolina. But while it was best-in-class in its time, it did not address critical shortage areas in STEM, special education or high-poverty schools (instead tending to over-supply wealthier, urban elementary schools). Its scholarships were limited to high school seniors – an important route to teaching, but certainly not the only one now in the midst of ubiquitous career changes. Finally, the original program made no promises of – nor did it demonstrate – a positive impact on the quality of teacher preparation in North Carolina.
The new Teaching Fellows program honors the original program while addressing each of these gaps for the needs of schools and classrooms today.
In North Carolina, we are fortunate to take pride in – and learn from – great accomplishments in our state’s history. At BEST NC, we also look forward with hope and anticipation to support an outstanding new North Carolina Teaching Fellows program. North Carolina has previously led the nation in education innovations and will do it again, with new and pioneering solutions designed specifically to solve the talent challenges our schools face today.