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Bidding farewell to the highly praised NC Teaching Fellows program

In 2011, the North Carolina General Assembly eliminated the much-lauded NC Teaching Fellows program, which prepares and provides for students eager to enter into a teaching career in their home state. As the last of the Teaching Fellows are set to graduate this spring, the program’s sponsor has released a retrospective report on the program’s impact since its inception in 1986.

“With declining enrollment in teacher preparation programs at our state’s colleges and universities and increasing numbers of teachers retiring, moving to other states or leaving the classroom altogether, the loss of this highly effective teacher recruitment effort will certainly be felt across North Carolina” said Keith Poston, President and Executive Director, Public School Forum of North Carolina.

Since it began, the [North Carolina Teaching Fellows] has graduated 8,523 Teaching Fellows, 79 percent of whom were employed in the public school system at least one year after completing their initial four-year teaching service requirement and 64 percent still in the public school system six or more years after completing the scholarship program’s service requirement.

Listen to Keith Poston talk about the Teaching Fellows program and teacher retention on News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon

After the legislature nixed the Teaching Fellows program, lawmakers decided to instead put those funds toward Teach for America (TFA), which overall has a poorer record of retaining high quality teachers in North Carolina in the long term.

A recent study conducted by the University of North Carolina found that less than a third of TFA teachers stayed in classrooms for three years and only 10 percent stayed for five years.

Retaining high quality teachers in North Carolina is at the top of state education leaders’ minds today. North Carolina’s public university system saw a steep enrollment decline in the last four years in undergraduate and graduate teaching programs, amounting to a 27 percent drop from 2010 to 2014.

The Teaching Fellows program was created back in 1986 upon the evolution of what education leaders at that time called a perfect storm:

A 1986 report by the Public School Forum, Who Will Teach Our Children, described a perfect storm created by thousands of pending teacher retirements, a projected rise in student enrollment, a sharp decline in the number of college graduates certified to teach in North Carolina, and the exodus from the teaching profession of over half of new teachers within the first five years of their career.

And that was not all. The report also cited research that showed a plunge in the academic ability of prospective teachers and found the most talented teachers were those most likely to leave within their first few years of teaching. What’s more, the pool of minority candidates entering teacher education programs was shrinking quickly, and it also was becoming increasingly difficult to recruit teachers for rural areas.

The Public School Forum’s list of the Teaching Fellows program’s accomplishments is long, and the organization highlights a UNC study that concludes that the competitive scholarships students received “enhanced the human capital of the teacher workforce and improved student achievement in North Carolina.”

But there was still room for improvement, especially in terms of funneling more high quality teachers into rural areas of the state and translating the program’s top-notch programming into the broader landscape of North Carolina’s teacher preparation programs, according to the report.

Sunset has come for the Teaching Fellows program, however. Yet at an education summit last month sponsored by the UNC Board of Governors that was dedicated to figuring out how to revive the teaching profession, the BOG said they planned to work with the Governor and the legislature to “establish a public-private teacher scholarship program that is merit based and targeted to attract the very best prospective candidates…”

Sounds familiar.

Read the report, A Legacy of Inspired Educators – A Report on the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program 1986-2015, below.

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