Partial Dividends from Teacher Education Commitment

When Erskine Bowles became president of the University of North Carolina in 2006, he promised to increase the number of teachers produced by the university, especially in math and science. At his inaugural address he cited the “enormous gap” between the numbers of teachers produced by the UNC system and the 11,000 teachers that North Carolina hires each year.

Although the results so far are slim, Bowles is making teacher education a high priority.

Bowles announced to the Board of Governors on June 8 that the Burroughs Wellcome Fund has given UNC $5.3 million to start a “fast-track” approach to teacher education. Juniors and seniors at four schools (North Carolina Central, N.C. State, UNC-Asheville, and UNC-Chapel Hill) who are majoring in science or mathematics will be able to take “condensed” education courses so that they can fulfill their teacher certification requirements along with their bachelor’s degrees. These students will also receive $6,500 in annual scholarships. If they graduate and teach science or math in a North Carolina public school, they can receive an additional salary of $5,000 per year for up to five years.

The new grant was announced a day after the Board of Governors’ committee on educational planning heard a less than rosy report from Alan Mabe, the university’s vice president for academic planning and university-school programs. This report indicated that the system as a whole has increased the number of teacher education graduates between the 2002-03 and 2005-06 academic years by 25.5 percent, or 513, to reach a total of 2,527.

In addition, the system produced 1,442 “alternative completers.” These are “lateral entry” teachers, individuals already employed in the state who are allowed three years to complete the necessary courses for certification.

As for “high need areas,” in 2005-06, the system produced a total of 456 graduates in mathematics, science, middle grades, and special education. In addition, 575 alternate completers were graduated in these fields.

Speaking before the education committee, Mabe called the increase “respectable” but indicated that so far the number of teachers is well below the university-wide goal of 6,000 teachers a year. He explained that each campus with a teacher education program is working on a recruitment program.

Mabe’s report was accompanied by a packet of materials, starting with a stern March 2007 letter from Bowles to the chancellors of schools with teacher education programs. Bowles noted, that there “has been little to no growth in the number of traditional teachers” graduated by the following campuses: East Carolina University (7.1 percent), North Carolina A&T (12.8 percent), North Carolina Central (13.2 percent), UNC-Chapel Hill (0 percent), and UNC –Wilmington (1.2 percent). “I want an explanation from each of you as to why you have not been able to expand teacher enrollment, ” he wrote.

He noted that some schools had fewer than 10 graduates in mathematics and science and called that “unacceptable.”

Chancellors responded with specific recruitment activities, although no letter from NC A&T, or UNC-Wilmington was included in the packet of materials. Appalachian State (which was not singled out as having done too little) reported that the university would employ a campus Director of Teacher Education Recruitment and develop “more focused recruitment materials.” Willie J. Gilchrist, chancellor of Elizabeth City State, said that the school is hiring personnel with a “proven track record in recruiting and working with middle and high school mathematics and science majors.”

Beverly Jones, Provost of North Carolina Central University, said that the school is seeking more scholarship funds for teacher education candidates, expanding relationships with community colleges, and pursuing funds for a project that exposes high school students to the teaching profession. She noted that “many high achieving minority students are not considering teaching as an option due to low salary and heavy workload.” In addition, she says, “many high school counselors and teachers are not encouraging students to choose teaching as a profession.”

It appears that increasing the number of teachers from the University of North Carolina remains a challenge.