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Today’s teachers are better than ever

Parents of school-age children may wonder if their children will have good teachers. They may wonder if teachers are “as good as they used to be.”

The answer is that new teachers are better than ever … but we need more of them.

Using Western Carolina University’s teacher education program as an example, new teachers are among the best students entering the university. They excel in a program that has never been more rigorous, and the evidence shows that when they become teachers they perform at high levels. While WCU is the example here, the data are similar for other teacher education programs at public and independent colleges and universities in North Carolina.

According to data available on the University of North Carolina Educator Quality Dashboard, students who enter teacher education at WCU have higher SAT scores and high school grade point averages (GPAs) than the WCU student population in general. For the latest year available, WCU students in teacher education had average high school GPAs of 3.91 and SAT scores of 1064, both higher than the university population in general at WCU and in the UNC system. Students entering teacher education have excelled in high school and continue to excel at the university.

The average university GPA of teacher education students at WCU after four years is 3.61, higher than the average for all students at Western and in the UNC system. They achieve this outstanding GPA in a deep and rigorous academic program with ever-increasing demands and performance expectations.

In order to be admitted to the teacher education program at WCU, students must demonstrate proficiency in a number of ways, including qualifying coursework and minimum scores on standardized tests. The baseline GPA for admission into teacher education is a 2.5, while most programs require students to earn and maintain at least a 2.75 cumulative GPA throughout their university careers.

They excel in a program whose mission is to provide educational experiences to admitted students that will promote their knowledge, skills, and dispositions and will prepare them to educate all children regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic level or ability.

Most students spend well over 1,000 hours in schools from the time of admission to teacher education through the student teaching experience.

Students who meet the standards for admission to teacher education, based on national standardized tests, GPA, and performance in key courses, are expected to display behaviors and ethics appropriate to the teaching profession in classes and in fieldwork in pre-kindergarten-12 schools. Clinical school experiences begin as early as the freshman year, and most students spend well over 1,000 hours in schools from the time of admission to teacher education through the student teaching experience.

To be licensed as a teacher in North Carolina, students must achieve passing scores on national, standardized exams that measure content and pedagogy. In addition, WCU has adopted a national measure of teaching performance in student teaching, called edTPA, which provides a means to look deeply at performance and includes a review of a teacher candidate’s authentic teaching materials. As a performance assessment, edTPA helps determine if new teachers are ready to enter the profession with the skills necessary to help all of their students learn. It is intended to be used for teacher licensure and to support state and national program accreditation.

Teachers who graduate from WCU are among the best of those graduating from high school and remain among the best graduating from the university. They complete a curriculum that demands high levels of performance, and includes about 1,000 hours of field and clinical experience in area schools with master teachers who mentor them. To qualify for a license to teach in this state, they are evaluated by university faculty members and master P-12 teachers, and they pass rigorous national exams measuring content, pedagogical knowledge and actual teaching performance in area classrooms.

Once licensed, teachers prepared at WCU and by other nationally accredited North Carolina independent and public colleges perform at high levels as shown by how their students score on required tests and how their supervisors rate their performance, according to research at the Education Policy Initiative at Carolina. Where it has been shown that more than 50 percent of teachers nationally leave within the first three to five years, more than 80 percent of N.C. prepared teachers are still on the job after five years.

North Carolina teachers are indeed better than ever, but we need more teachers because North Carolina is simply not preparing enough new teachers to fill the need for 10,000 new vacancies every year, according to Teach Now North Carolina.

This article was previously published in the Asheville Citizen-Times on January 15, 2016. It is republished here with the permission of the authors.


Dale Carpenter

Dr. Dale Carpenter is the Dean of WCU’s College of Education and Allied Professions. Dr. Carpenter has been at Western since 1979 as a professor of special education and was associate dean for ten years (1998 – 2008).

Kim Winter

Dr. Kim Winter is Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in the College of Education and Allied Professions at Western Carolina University.