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North Carolina’s new approach to teacher recruitment

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 professional 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.

Julie Kowal

Julie Kowal joined BEST NC as Vice President of Policy and Research in July of 2014. Julie is a North Carolina native and a K16 product of North Carolina public schools. She is a nationally-recognized education policy expert on a wide range of public education issues, including teacher and leader effectiveness, school innovations and dramatic school improvement. She came to BEST NC from the North Carolina Campaign for Achievement Now, an education policy and advocacy nonprofit, where she served as founding Executive Director. Prior to founding CarolinaCAN, Julie was a member of the leadership team at education policy and management consulting firm Public Impact, where she led project teams on many of the most promising education transformation efforts in the nation. An alumna of AmeriCorps NCCC and Public Allies DC, Julie earned her bachelor’s degree with honors from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and her law degree with honors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.