Filed on Thursday, the bill, called Teach for North Carolina, would create a pilot program that aims to recruit and retain teachers in rural N.C. school districts. The program would offer 60 state-funded four-year college scholarships to teachers’ assistants — initially targeting Richmond, Scotland, Anson and adjacent counties over the next two years.
Working with the UNC system as well as the N.C. Community College system, the bill would provide prospective teachers with $7,000 per year for four years — a $2,500 stipend and $4,500 to cover the costs of pursuing higher education.
To forgive their loans, teaching assistants would be required to teach for eight consecutive years in one of the state’s top-performing counties or four years in a school that received a D or F on the state’s school performance report.
Eric Houck, a professor in UNC’s School of Education and a member of the first class of the N.C. Teaching Fellows at UNC, said he questions the bill’s potential to succeed.
“I’m no policy expert, but to me, this sounds like a bill written in a hurry to solve a specific problem,” he said.
Houck said he doesn’t think it can fill the shoes of the Fellows program.
Teaching Fellows provided an annual $6,500 grant to college students who in exchange taught for four years in North Carolina public schools after graduation. Its funding was phased out starting in 2011, and the last Teaching Fellows class will graduate in May.
“The best replacement for the Teaching Fellows program would be the Teaching Fellows program,” Houck said.
Rural counties should instead work with the state to create loan-forgiveness programs and teacher salary increases, he said.
Matt Ellinwood, a policy analyst with the N.C. Justice Center, said he thinks Teach for North Carolina is too small of a proposal to have a significant effect on teacher retention in the state.
“(Aside) from the fact that it waters down the credentials of the people,” Ellinwood said. “We’re only talking about 30 scholarships in that program and (for) Teaching Fellows, each cohort was 500.”
The pilot program also would ease teacher training requirements for individuals who have assisted in the classroom for five years — providing an exemption from student-teaching time and lowering grades required on minimum competency exams.
“It doesn’t help me think that they’re going to really be retaining high-quality teachers,” Houck said.
Keith Poston, executive director of the N.C. Public School Forum, said he agrees with bill sponsor Sen. Tom McInnis that the state’s teacher shortage will continue to worsen and that rural counties are feeling the most pressure, but he doesn’t think lowering exam standards is a smart move.
Ellinwood wondered whether the program would be able to effectively transition teaching assistants to full-time teachers, which he said current research has deemed difficult.
“To be fair, (Teach for North Carolina) might be a way to change that,” Ellinwood said.
Poston said the Public School Forum appreciates efforts to entice a new generation of teachers.
But a major concern for the forum, which has overseen the Teaching Fellows program, is the declining enrollment of students in schools of education. The UNC School of Education has seen a 30 percent drop in enrollment since 2010.
“For the Public School Forum, our concern is the pipeline (of teachers) today, but I’m even more worried about what’s going to happen in three, four, five years, as these enrollment declines really start hitting North Carolina,” Poston said.
“Our superintendents are worried about vacancies for the fall of this year, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”