Spellings on K-12 teacher prep: We’re in this together

Posted : 10 May 2016

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By Margaret Spellings
PresidentUniversity of North Carolina System

I’m nearing the end of my first tour of our state’s public universities, and it has been a thoroughly heartening experience.  On every visit, I’ve heard about the remarkable work taking place across North Carolina and seen the pride people take in our campuses.

I’ve also heard honest discussion about the challenges we face.  In setting fair admissions standards, improving graduation rates, and ensuring that more North Carolinians have access to college, many of our greatest hurdles are intimately connected to K-12 education.  In every way, the success of our universities is bound to the success of public schools.

The UNC System has a new website for students considering teaching – the profession that makes all others possible.  It includes video interviews with young teachers, links to Schools of Education, financial aid and scholarship information, and links to the 10,000 teaching jobs the state fills each year.

The University of North Carolina System is already the single largest source of new teachers in North Carolina.  Our 15 Schools of Education meet a crucial need in preparing the state’s teacher corps, especially in regions that struggle to attract and keep talented educators.  Without our graduates, the state simply could not staff public schools.

In recent years, that pipeline of well-trained teachers has faltered.  Enrollment in education programs has dropped across the state — down 30 percent since 2010 — part of a nationwide decline.  Too many of our most ambitious young people never even consider teaching, dissuaded by lagging pay and a negative perception of the profession.  During my campus visits, I’ve heard from countless students who like the idea of teaching but don’t see it as a viable career path.

That’s not a problem the University system can solve alone, but we can certainly do more to present teaching as the challenging, rewarding profession that it is.  We can increase respect for our Schools of Education by raising the bar for our own students, emphasizing teaching as a rigorous discipline rather than a noble act of charity.

We can start by elevating the scholarship that already takes place around education.  Our campuses do more than train teachers.  They also conduct a wealth of research on public schools and K-12 students, and we can do much more to ensure those insights lead to more effective public policy.  We can better translate academic findings into classroom practice, offering more professional development for the men and women who work in our schools.

Teachers work hard and think deeply about their craft.  They need to be connected and supported by a University system that celebrates the intellectual depth of great teaching.  Our education schools can help strengthen a field that too often relies on individual guesswork in place of rigorous research.  They should be beacons of professional development, applied research, and data-driven insight for our public schools.  They should be the go-to resource for state policymakers, local boards of education, and classroom teachers looking for answers about what works and what doesn’t in our schools.

We can make our own education programs more responsive to that research.  Last year, the UNC Board of Governors convened a statewide summit to recommend improvements in teacher preparation.  The Board called for more focus on clinical practice — getting teacher candidates deeper experience in the classroom — and doing more to recruit content specialists from our Colleges of Arts & Sciences.  The Board also recommended greater sharing of data about our teacher preparation programs, as well as classroom performance among our graduates, so that we can make continuous improvements in the way we train teachers.

We’re making progress on those fronts, but there is still enormous work ahead.  The good news is that I’ve heard nothing but enthusiastic support from the faculty, staff, and students on our campuses.

Everyone understands that public education is the foundation of all that we do at the University.  More so than in most states, North Carolina’s public colleges remain focused on serving in-state students.  We cannot be successful without a college-ready pool of talent to draw from.

That’s why I intend to be an advocate for our state’s teachers, and ensure that the full resources of the University of North Carolina are behind them.  We’re in this together.