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Maher: A Low-Cost, High-Retention Program

This is a guest post from Michael Maher [@mj_maher], who works at the NC State College of Education:

Tumblr_mb7zsuOCHs1qa0uujo1_500Last week, Congressional leaders agreed to extend the regulation that makes alternative certification teachers "highly qualified" under NCLB, with the condition that there should be a report on where these teachers are and how they're distributed.

 But who wants to wait for that?  We already know where they are located: high need areas (math, science, special education) and high need schools (poor, urban, rural). And who needs to wait to know more about teacher preparation, when President Obama is already calling for a 100,000-teacher STEM initiative whose teachers would likely come mostly from alternative programs?

The thing is, alternative certification isn't a miracle cure for teacher preparation, and it would be unfortunate if the White House and others looked past traditional programs that have shown that they can attract top candidates, prepare them, and keep them in the profession -- at a far lower cost.

Twenty-seven years ago, the state of North Carolina established the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program (NCTFP), one of the first loan forgiveness programs for teachers in training in the nation. 

Over its history, the NCTFP prepared over 10,000 public school teachers for North Carolina.  Though categorized as traditional teacher preparation program, NCTFP teachers  represented the “best and brightest” North Carolina schools had to offer with 2010 recipients having an average SAT of 1186 and weighted GPA of 4.3.  In addition to higher academic credentials they represented a more diverse profile than the average college of education (20% of the candidates were minority).  Each year the NCTFP produced roughly 500 teachers (with a total enrollment of approximately 2,000 spread across 17 public and private campuses) on an annual budget of roughly $13 million.

In a study of effectiveness the NCTFP fared favorably to TFA and outperformed other traditional and alternative completers.  After 5 years, 73% of the NCTFP completers remain in our classrooms. By comparison, 93% of TFA corps members have moved on and no longer teach in North Carolina.

The NYT's Mike Winerip wrote about the program last year, noting that “It is not enough for the smartest to become teachers; they have to stay in teaching.”  And that is precisely what NCTFP completers do that makes them different.  

And yet, last year the state shut NCTFP down.  

Recently, the President reiterated his plans for a new national corps of STEM teachers.  Part of this plan calls for 100,000 additional STEM teachers over the next 10 years.  The program would provide competitive awards to “create or expand high-quality pathways to teacher certification and other innovative approaches for recruiting, training, and placing talented recent college graduates and mid-career professionals in the STEM fields in high-need schools."  

I read this as “competitive awards” for alternative certification programs (not housed in teacher preparation programs) to provide teachers to the very schools where we already have large proportions of alternatively certified teachers.  Leading to more questions and challenges about whether or not they are “highly qualified”.

It would appear that the NCTFP could serve as a state model or even a national modelwith some modifications,  a “lower cost” alternative to alternative certification programs that cost four times as much. 

But herein lies the rub: the NCTFP candidates were trained in traditional colleges of education, not alternative certification programs, and if the rhetoric is any indication Secretary Duncan doesn’t care very much for traditional teacher education.  (He recently noted that "many if not most" of traditional training programs weren't suitable, though the same claim might be made against alternative programs.  

In my opinion, wholescale bypassing of traditional teacher prep programs would be a shame.  The ending of the NCTFP was more political than anything else. States like North Carolina can incentivize our “best and brightest” through loan forgiveness scholarship programs that tie their repayment to our most high need districts (and students) while strategically allocating the scholarships to those pursuing degrees/licenses in high need subjects (math, science, and special education).  As history has shown, if we recruit and prepare our own, they are more likely to stay and have a positive impact on our children, without worrying about whether or not they are “highly qualified.”



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