Teachers are the most important resource that schools have to improve the academic outcomes of students.[1]  As such, North Carolina’s state and local officials face strong incentives to enact policies that better recruit, prepare, develop, and retain teachers in the state’s public schools.  Over the past 30 years North Carolina has built a collection of key education initiatives.  For example, the state created the Teaching Fellows program, took a leading role in the state standards and accountability movement, strongly supported the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and invested in competitive salaries for the state’s teacher workforce.  While there was not a grand, cohesive plan driving these efforts, in totality, these education initiatives built an infrastructure to advance the quality and retention of teachers.

In recent years, however, North Carolina has asked much of its teachers without finding ways to offer them more support in return.  North Carolina experienced the largest inflation-adjusted drop in teacher salaries over the last decade[2], de-funded the Teaching Fellows program, ended pay increases for master’s degrees, attempted to end career status protections for teachers, and kept funding for public schools at low levels.  This has contributed to the erosion of the infrastructure that supports high-quality teaching and retention in the profession.  As a result, North Carolina faces several critical challenges with respect to its teacher workforce.

These challenges include steep declines in enrollments in the state’s teacher education programs, low teacher pay and financial support for schools, high levels of teacher attrition, and a policy context that appears averse to teaching. These challenges will contribute to a shortage of high-quality teachers in North Carolina, particularly in high-need schools and subject areas, and a churn of teachers into and out of the teaching profession.

Given the importance of teachers to student outcomes and the future of North Carolina, asking more of teachers is well-founded.  However, if North Carolina wants to advance the quality of its teacher workforce, then the state must do more itself.

An oft-cited solution is to raise teacher pay to the national average. Certainly, investing in higher teacher salaries is important, but raising salaries may not be enough on its own. As we did decades ago, North Carolina needs to go beyond the national average and build a new, comprehensive infrastructure to support teaching and public education.  With the help of hindsight and research evidence, we can create a teacher workforce that makes North Carolina a leader in K-12 education.

To build this infrastructure, the state needs an interconnected set of policies to better recruit, prepare, develop, and retain teachers.  Efforts toward this end may include the following:

  • Re-instating recruitment incentives to attract more and higher-caliber individuals to teacher education programs and teaching.
  • Enumerating a teacher compensation system that ensures a competitive level of base teacher pay, gets teacher buy-in and feedback on differential pay plans, and provides a framework for school districts to alter compensation systems to meet the needs and challenges of the district.
  • Requiring in-state teacher education programs to be nationally accredited and commit to raising admissions standards; providing higher-quality student teaching experiences; demonstrating the impact of their graduates on K-12 outcomes; and engaging in the use of data and evidence for continuous program improvement.
  • Providing high-quality, comprehensive induction support services to all early-career teachers.
  • Ensuring a competitive level of funding for public education and for high-quality programs that support a robust infrastructure for effective teaching.

In all of these efforts, North Carolina should be committed to conducting rigorous research and using evidence to inform policy decisions. 

 North Carolina needs to go beyond the national average and build a new, comprehensive infrastructure to support teaching and public education.

2. The Importance of Teachers
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Research over the past decade has consistently shown that teachers are the most important school-related resource impacting student achievement, and that teachers differ greatly in their effectiveness.[3]  For example, Figure 1 shows that in North Carolina elementary school mathematics classrooms, students taught by teachers at the 90th percentile of effectiveness (based on their students’ test score growth) have a distinct advantage. Those students gain approximately 50 days of learning in comparison to students taught by teachers at the 50th percentile and over 100 days of learning in comparison to students taught by teachers at the 10th percentile.  

 Teacher quality matters

Beyond immediate test score outcomes, research shows that high-quality teachers boost college-going rates, attendance at higher-ranked post-secondary institutions, job earnings, and residence in higher-income neighborhoods.[4] [5] Retaining teachers also matters greatly, as research shows that teacher turnover adversely impacts school performance and costs North Carolinians upwards of $63 million a year.[6] [7] 

Given these facts, North Carolina’s state and local officials face strong incentives to enact policies that advance the quality and retention of teachers in the state’s public schools.  This is challenging work and necessitates a comprehensive strategy and coordinated efforts to recruit, prepare, develop, and retain high-quality teachers.  To focus attention on North Carolina’s teachers, this report provides background on the teacher workforce; presents a brief history of the state’s efforts to recruit, compensate, retain, and develop teachers; summarizes the current challenges North Carolina faces with respect to recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers; and considers ways for the state to advance the quality and retention of the teacher workforce.

3. Background on the Public School Teacher Workforce
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In the 2013-14 school year, North Carolina employed approximately 95,000 teachers in over 2,500 public schools.  Unlike the increasingly diverse students they serve, these teachers are overwhelmingly female (80 percent) and white (82 percent).  As shown in Figure 2, these teachers entered the teaching profession with diverse forms of preparation: 36 percent were prepared by University of North Carolina (UNC) system institutions, 13 percent were prepared by North Carolina private and independent colleges and universities, 29 percent came from out-of-state institutions,[i] 15 percent were alternative entry teachers, and 0.50 percent were Teach For America corps members.[8] 

Research examining the effectiveness of these teachers, as measured by student achievement gains, shows that on average UNC system-prepared teachers outperform out-of-state-prepared and alternative entry teachers but are less effective than Teach For America corps members.[9]  Approximately 75 percent of in-state-prepared teachers (public and private institutions) stay for five years of teaching in the state’s public schools, as shown in Figure 3. These values are significantly different for out-of-state-prepared (57 percent), alternative entry (56 percent), and Teach For America corps members (10 percent).  Overall, 10.5 percent of the state’s teachers (in 2013-14) did not return to the state’s public schools in the 2014-15 school year.

Following national trends, North Carolina’s teacher workforce is composed of many early-career teachers.[10] First-year teachers are the largest category of teacher experience in the state, and teachers with less than five years of experience comprise 25 percent of the state’s teacher workforce.  These figures are troubling since, on average, early-career teachers are less effective, more likely to exit teaching, and are concentrated in high-need schools.[11][12][13] 

 UNC is the reigning champ

In-state preparation is the most successful

Thirteen percent of the state’s teachers hold the rigorous National Board Certification (NBC) credential and 35 percent hold a master’s degree or above.  Evidence shows that these NBC teachers are more effective, as measured by student achievement gains, than peers without this advanced credential. There is not strong evidence that graduate degree holders are more effective than those with only a bachelor’s degree.[14] [15] 

Highlighting these relationships with teacher performance is important, since North Carolina bases teacher compensation on the acquisition of these credentials, although North Carolina no longer provides pay raises for teachers newly-earning graduate degrees.

4. North Carolina’s Efforts to Advance the Quality and Retention of Teachers
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To augment the quality of their teacher workforce, states and school districts can enact policies targeted at the recruitment, preparation, development, compensation, and retention of teachers.   Efforts towards this end can take two broad forms:  (1) piecemeal approaches that attempt to improve the teacher workforce through changes to one aspect of this policy cycle apart from the system as a whole; or (2) coordinated efforts that recognize the interconnectedness of these policies and attempt to build an infrastructure that supports high-quality teaching and retention in the profession.  

Over the past 30 years North Carolina has enacted a set of key education initiatives. While there was not a grand, cohesive plan driving these efforts, in totality, these initiatives built an infrastructure to advance the quality and retention of teachers. However, policy efforts in recent years have asked more of teachers without providing the same level of infrastructure and support. The sections below highlight many of North Carolina’s seminal policy efforts over the last three decades.

Teacher recruitment:  Since the mid-1980s, North Carolina has undertaken two strategies designed to broaden the available pool of teachers for the state’s public schools—a necessary action given the significant increase in the state’s K-12 student population—and enhance the academic competitiveness of the teacher workforce. 

First, the state has experimented with alternatives to solely licensing teachers prepared at in-state traditional education programs.  In 1985, the state General Assembly passed legislation to “encourage lateral entry into the profession of teaching by skilled individuals from the private sector.”[16]  This policy offered prospective teachers a way to forego traditional teacher preparation and begin teaching while concurrently completing requirements for licensure.  Legislators hoped this policy could help diversify the teacher workforce and encourage individuals with strong subject-area knowledge to enter the profession. [ii] 

The state has also established reciprocity agreements with other states and/or accreditors of teacher education programs and has imported a large number of teachers traditionally prepared outside of North Carolina.  From 2000-01 to 2009-10 the number of lateral entry teachers in North Carolina public schools increased 125 percent, from 6,626 to 15,028; over this same period, the number of out-of-state prepared instructors increased 36 percent, from 21,316 to 29,006.  This broadening of the routes into the teaching profession has helped the state meet its growing demand for teachers. However, these lateral entry and out-of-state prepared teachers are less effective and persist at lower rates than in-state prepared peers.[17]

Second, the state has offered scholarship loans to encourage individuals to earn teaching credentials and teach in the state’s public schools.[iii]  Most notably, in 1986 North Carolina created the Teaching Fellows program to provide college scholarships ($6,500 per year for four years) for academically competitive rising college freshmen to attend an in-state public or private university and earn a teaching credential through participation in an intensive four-year preparation program.  The state allocated funds for 500 scholarships annually; these scholarship loans were contingent on serving four years as a teacher in the state’s public schools.  Since its inception, the Teaching Fellows program has recruited nearly 11,000 teachers for the state’s public schools, and an independent evaluation of the program shows that Teaching Fellows have higher levels of academic ability, are more effective, and persist longer in the state’s public schools.[18]  Evidence also shows that other scholarship recipients—Future Teachers of North Carolina and Prospective Teacher Scholarship Loan—are more effective than other UNC system prepared teachers in elementary grades.[19]  Despite this evidence, North Carolina ended funding for the Teaching Fellows program in 2011 and the last cohort of Teaching Fellows graduates in 2015.

Teacher compensation:  Over 90 percent of school districts in the United States currently pay teachers using a single salary structure.  This compensation system emerged in the mid-20th century to uniformly pay teachers according to their level of teaching experience and educational attainment—two criteria thought to be related to teacher performance.[20]  With the single salary structure, teachers typically receive additional pay for accruing years of teaching experience and earn permanent salary increases for earning additional educational or job-related credentials.  North Carolina uses a statewide salary structure to compensate teachers according to their level of experience, and provides pay increases for teachers holding a master’s degree or NBC.  North Carolina instituted a 12 percent pay increase for NBC teachers in the 1997-98 school year and a 10 percent pay increase for teachers with a master’s degree in the 2000-01 school year. Prior to 2001, teachers with a master’s degree earned a 6.2 percent raise.

North Carolina school districts can also provide teachers annual salary supplements that represent a fixed dollar amount or fixed percentage of a teacher’s base salary.  These salary supplements are an important way that districts recruit and compete to hire high-quality teachers, and there are substantial differences in the supplement amounts across districts.  For instance, in the 2014-15 school year, the average district-level salary supplement was over $2,300, but seven districts offered no salary supplements and five districts had average supplements over $5,000.[21]


Hard at work


Over the last 20 years, North Carolina has engaged in several efforts to raise its teacher pay to the national average and be a leader in the southeast.  From 1996-97 through 1999-00 the state invested an additional $1.4 billion in teacher salaries.  During this time the average pay of a teacher with five years of experience increased by 23 percent. Over the 10-year period from 1995-96 through 2005-06, North Carolina was ranked fourth in the country for percentage increases in average teacher salaries.[22]  At this time, the state also added payments to mentor teachers of $1,100 per year and school-based performance bonuses of $750, per teacher, for meeting student achievement growth expectations or $1,500, per teacher, for exceeding those expectations by 10 percent.

In 2005-06 through 2008-09, North Carolina invested an additional $1 billion in teacher salaries. During this time the average pay of a teacher with five years of experience increased by 15 percent, and by 2008-09 average teacher pay in North Carolina was ranked 25th nationally.[23]  With the start of the Great Recession in 2008, teacher salaries in North Carolina remained flat, except for a small cost-of-living increase in 2012, and by 2013 North Carolina had fallen to 46th in average teacher pay.[24]  North Carolina instituted a teacher pay increase of seven percent in the 2014-15 school year; however, these additional funds disproportionately targeted early-career teachers, such that a thirty-year veteran receives less than a one percent pay increase and a fifth-year teacher receives more than an 18 percent pay increase.[25] 

In the last two years, North Carolina has taken several steps to alter its teacher compensation system.  First, North Carolina will no longer provide a 10 percent pay increase to teachers completing a graduate degree program. Teachers who completed at least one graduate-level course prior to August 1, 2013, are grandfathered into the previous pay scale. All others will not receive a 10 percent pay increase upon completion of their advanced degree.

Second, the state abolished continuing contracts for teachers with career status (enhanced job protections), in favor of one-, two-, or four-year contracts, and offered pay incentives of $5,000 to the top quarter of teachers in each district if they were willing to forego their career status protections.  A North Carolina superior court judge ruled this legislation removing career status protections unconstitutional in 2014; an appeals court recently upheld this decision.  Finally, as part of its 2014-15 salary increase, the state condensed its salary schedule to just six steps, with pay increases coming for teachers every five years instead of annually. 

The equitable distribution and retention of teachers:  Across North Carolina, certain regions, schools, and subject-areas struggle to attract and retain high-quality teachers.  To ensure that high-need schools enjoy equitable access to high-quality teachers and retain their teacher workforce, the state and its school districts can take two broad approaches:  (1) offering financial incentives to encourage teachers to come to and stay in schools and/or (2) strengthening the school working conditions, school leadership quality, and instructional resources available to teachers.[26] [27] 

Over the last 15 years, North Carolina has instituted two financial incentive programs to encourage teachers to work in high-need schools.  The North Carolina Bonus Program was in effect from 2001-02 through 2003-04.  It awarded an annual bonus of $1,800—approximately three to seven percent of eligible teachers’ base pay—for certified teachers in hard-to-staff teaching positions like math, science, and special education to remain in their high-poverty or low-achieving school.  Despite confusion regarding which schools were eligible for the program, eligible teachers increased their in-school retention rates by 17 percent, with the largest effects for experienced teachers.[28] 

More recently, North Carolina used part of the state’s $400 million Race to the Top grant to create the Strategic Staffing Initiative, which provided ten school districts with incentives of $5,360 to recruit teachers to schools with high rates of teacher turnover.  This initiative failed to meet many of its goals, as most eligible teachers were not aware of and only a small number of teachers participated in the program.[29]  Lessons from both of these programs highlight the need for better communication between the state, districts, schools, and teachers for policies to have their desired effect.

Beyond financial incentives to work in high-need schools, the District and School Transformation (DST) program and the North Carolina New Teacher Support Program (NC NTSP), have aimed to increase the effectiveness and retention of teachers in the state’s lowest-achieving schools by providing teachers intensive instructional coaching and professional development.[iv]  Evidence from external evaluations shows that the DST program significantly improves school-level achievement.[30] Comparable evidence shows that the NC NTSP boosts novice teacher value-added in elementary and middle grades, and increases novice teacher retention in the lowest-achieving schools.[31]  These results indicate that schools and teachers can benefit from intensive investments. 



An infrastructure for teaching and development:  North Carolina has also invested in a broader infrastructure to support the development of teachers and their teaching.  These efforts have taken two main forms; (1) establishing and supporting standards for what should be taught in the classroom and what high-quality teaching looks like and (2) providing resources for teachers to further their professional development and learning.

Under the leadership of Governor Jim Hunt, North Carolina was a national leader in the standards and accountability movement.  Instituted in 1993, the state’s standards and accountability system provided clear expectations for what teachers were responsible for teaching. Common assessments—the North Carolina End-of-Grade and End-of-Course exams— determined the extent to which students learned the material taught by teachers, while schools faced incentives and consequences for reaching achievement targets. North Carolina experienced significant gains in its National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores in the late 1990s, and research suggests that strong accountability systems, like North Carolina’s, contributed to that growth.[32] 

North Carolina has also been a national leader in supporting the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS).  With Governor Hunt as its first Board of Directors Chair, the NBPTS established a set of standards for defining and recognizing accomplished teaching and created the rigorous National Board Certification process. North Carolina now leads the nation in the number of NBC teachers, and research shows that these teachers are more effective than their non-certified peers.[33] [34] [35]

Lastly, in 2008, the North Carolina State Board of Education adopted the North Carolina Educator Evaluation System (NCEES).  In this system, school administrators use rubric-based classroom observations and paper-based evidences to directly rate five teaching standards. With Race to the Top, North Carolina has since added a sixth standard to measure teacher effectiveness based on value-added to student achievement.  This measure is based on individual teacher or school-level value-added to student achievement and is estimated by EVAAS models at the SAS Institute.  Research has yet to examine whether these standards have benefitted the instructional practices of teachers or contributed to higher-quality teachers entering into and staying in the profession.

North Carolina has also supported the continued learning and development of its teachers through the North Carolina Teacher Academy (NCTA) and the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT).  The state no longer funds the NCTA, but previously, it provided professional development in the areas of school committee leadership, instruction, core content, and technology use.  The NCCAT continues to provide on-line, school-based, and centralized (in Cullowhee and Ocracoke) professional development to thousands of North Carolina teachers in areas such as literacy, digital learning, differentiated instruction, classroom management, and teacher leadership.  The NCCAT has recurring state funding, but currently, operates on half of the state appropriations that it ran on in the past.[36]

5. Challenges to Advancing the Quality and Retention of North Carolina’s Teachers
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Despite North Carolina’s rich history of leadership in education policy, the state currently faces several key challenges with respect to attracting and retaining high-quality teachers in the state’s public schools.  It is important to remember that North Carolina is not an island.  Teacher labor markets are geographically expanding and North Carolina is competing with other states, near and far, to recruit, hire, and keep high-quality teachers.  These teachers, both novice and veteran, are weighing whether North Carolina is the best place for them to teach. 

Addressing these challenges and ensuring that North Carolina provides a supportive environment for teachers is no small task.  It will require a collective effort to coordinate policies and build an infrastructure to promote high-quality teaching and retention.  The sections below highlight many of the key challenges North Carolina faces.

Decreased enrollments in teacher education programs:  Both nationally and in North Carolina, enrollments in university-based teacher education programs have declined sharply over the last five years.[v]  For instance, as shown in Figure 4, enrollments in undergraduate UNC system teacher education programs are down 26 percent from Fall 2010 to Fall 2014; enrollments in graduate-level UNC system teacher education programs are down 30 percent over the same time period.

In conjunction with the state’s growing student population and recent high levels of teacher attrition, these drops in enrollment are problematic for North Carolina because the state may soon face a shortage of teachers, particularly in hard-to-staff schools and subject areas.  Schools and districts may need to respond to this shortage by hiring more novice teachers, more out-of-state prepared and alternative entry teachers, or even more long-term substitutes. Those options are shown to be less effective and more likely to exit North Carolina public schools.[37]  It will also take time for any steps taken to address this enrollment drop—e.g. re-instating scholarship loan programs to recruit teachers—to result in more teachers prepared by in-state universities.

Enrollment is falling dramatically

Lack of recruitment incentives:  Connected to dropping enrollments in in-state teacher preparation programs is the lack of financial incentives to recruit talented individuals into the teaching profession.  In recent years North Carolina has discontinued funding for the North Carolina Teaching Fellows program, the Future Teachers of North Carolina, and the Prospective Teachers Scholarship Loan program.  

Collectively, these programs provided scholarship loans, contingent on working in the state’s public schools post-graduation, for approximately 700 graduates of in-state teacher preparation programs, annually. This lack of scholarship monies to defray the costs of higher education may make the teaching profession less attractive.

Teacher compensation:  Overall, North Carolina faces three important challenges with respect to its teacher compensation system.  First, the state has low teacher pay, both nationally and as compared to neighboring states.  As of 2013-14, North Carolina ranked 47th in average teacher salaries, paying teachers 80 percent of the national average, and trailed behind Georgia (24th), Virginia (29th), South Carolina (37th), and Tennessee (40th).[38] Adjusting for inflation, average teacher salaries in North Carolina decreased over 17 percent from 2003-04 through 2013-14.  This was the largest drop in the United States.  Estimates from 2015, after the state’s latest teacher salary increase, rank North Carolina 42nd in average teacher pay. [39]  While the new higher salaries for early-career teachers should help attract more individuals to teaching in North Carolina, it is noteworthy that the state’s current salary structure maxes out at $50,000 for an undergraduate and $56,000 for those holding NBC.[40]  These maximum values are less than the average teacher salary, nationally.

While pay is certainly not the only reason that teachers enter the profession, these low pay levels may contribute to more recently-prepared teachers securing their first teaching position in another state and more veteran teachers leaving North Carolina to go to other states.  The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s teacher turnover analyses show that in 2013-14, 734 North Carolina public school teachers reported resigning to teach in another state.  This value is up from 455, 341, and 312 in the preceding three years.[41]  In a statewide survey of first-year teachers, over 68 percent of respondents indicated that salary increases would be important to improve their job satisfaction.

Second, despite state-level interest in compensation systems that align teacher pay with teacher performance (pay for performance), pay teachers more for working in hard-to-staff schools or subject areas (hazard pay), and/or compensate teachers more for taking on additional responsibilities and leadership roles (career ladders), there is not strong evidence that these approaches are effective. 

There are two ways in which performance pay systems may improve teacher quality. Either the opportunity to earn more based on effectiveness motivates teachers to try harder and seek out additional resources and/or the existence of a performance pay system encourages higher-caliber individuals to enter or remain in teaching.  Currently, there is little evidence that pay for performance significantly impacts teacher effectiveness. Further research is needed to determine whether, long-term, pay for performance systems encourage higher-caliber teachers to enter or remain in teaching.[42] [43] [44]  Additionally, pay for performance requires accurately identifying highly-effective teachers (or schools), which can be challenging with currently available outcome measures (e.g. teacher value-added or evaluation ratings). 

NC is falling behind

The North Carolina Bonus Program shows that hazard pay programs can have positive impacts, even when imperfectly implemented.[45] However, it may be more challenging and costly to entice highly effective teachers to come to and/or stay in high-need schools, and the success of these hazard pay programs may differ greatly across regions of the state.[46] 

Career ladders represent another way to impact school-level performance and increase the retention of effective teachers.  They allow teachers to modify their teaching load and take on more responsibilities within the school or district, such as mentoring novice teachers or serving as a curriculum specialist, in exchange for more recognition and higher salaries. Outside the United States, several high-performing countries, such as Finland and Singapore, incorporate career advancement opportunities into their systems for developing and retaining effective teachers.  In the United States, career ladders were a popular reform initiative in the 1980s and 1990s; however, evidence on their impacts is limited. 

Overall, this limited evidence regarding pay for performance, hazard pay, and career ladders should not imply that North Carolina refrain from exploring such options. It does mean that the state should carefully consider the intended and unintended consequences of such pay regimes, get teacher feedback and buy-in on compensation proposals, and commit to rigorously evaluating the impacts of any reforms.

And third, most school districts in North Carolina closely hew to the state’s teacher salary structure because they are unaware of or lack the capacity to experiment with alternative forms of teacher compensation that will better address the needs and challenges of the district.  For example, research on Wayne County’s public high schools showed that Goldsboro High School, a high-need school at the center of a formal NAACP complaint, spent substantially more per-pupil than other district high schools.

However, rather than allocating these additional funds towards pay incentives for highly-effective teachers, Goldsboro High School operated within the salary structure and simply allocated the funds to a larger number of less-qualified and less-effective teachers.[47]  This reduced class sizes but did not get the school the highly-effective teachers it needed to boost academic performance. Alternatively, promising results from Project Lift in Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools show that experiments with teacher compensation to pay highly-effective teachers more for taking on additional responsibilities and larger class sizes can be effective.[48]

Financially supporting schools and classroom instruction:  The Great Recession severely impacted North Carolina’s economy, driving unemployment rates above 10 percent and sharply reducing the availability of public funds for the state’s K-12 and higher education systems.  While the economy is now recovering, public school funding remains low.  In the 2013-14 school year, North Carolina spent $8,632 per pupil for a national ranking of 47th.  The state trailed behind Virginia (21st), South Carolina (35th), Georgia (36th), and Tennessee (41st).[49] 

Since 2008-09, North Carolina’s teacher workforce has shrunk by approximately 4,500 teachers (4.5 percent) and the number of classroom instructional aides has decreased by nearly 7,500 teaching assistants (25 percent).[50]  This means that average class sizes are larger and that teachers have less support to complete classroom tasks.  Lastly, the North Carolina General Assembly’s 2015 budget ended the practice of automatically tying additional state funds to increased enrollments in districts.[51] Overall, these changes in the amount and transparency of financial and instructional resources may make it harder for districts to hire high-quality teachers and may encourage teachers to either exit the state’s public schools or seek positions in better-resourced districts.

Defunding the Teaching Fellows program, low levels of teacher compensation and funding for public schools, discontinuing pay increases for graduate degree holders, attempting to end teacher career status protections have contributed to negative perceptions of teaching in North Carolina.

A policy context adverse to teachers:  Collectively, the policies and actions described above—de-funding the Teaching Fellows program, low levels of teacher compensation and funding for public schools, discontinuing pay increases for graduate degree holders, attempting to end teacher career status protections—have contributed to negative perceptions of the teaching profession in North Carolina and a policy context that appears averse to teachers. 

This negative environment for teaching was evident in the responses of teachers to the state’s Teacher Working Conditions (TWC) survey, and in the retention patterns of teachers.  On the 2012 TWC survey, 4.6 percent of teacher respondents indicated that they planned to leave education entirely; by the 2014 TWC survey, 7.4 percent of teacher respondents answered similarly.  Additionally, in 2009-10, 11.1 percent of North Carolina public school teachers left their school district. By 2013-14, 14.1 percent of North Carolina public school teachers had done the same.[52]  This difference of a mere three percentage points means North Carolina school districts had to replace nearly 3,000 additional teaching positions in 2013-14.  Overall, North Carolina’s teachers have been asked to sacrifice more in recent years. Providing additional supports and recognition for them is important to enhance the status and perception of the profession in the state.

6. A Way Forward for North Carolina
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North Carolina has asked a great deal of its teacher workforce in recent years.  Teachers must teach with low pay levels and in schools with low levels of instructional supports (both monetary and personnel). Teachers must adapt to a new teacher evaluation system and learn and teach the new Common Core and North Carolina Essential Standards. And teachers face state leadership opposed to status quo benefits such as career status and graduate degree incentives.

Given the importance of teachers to student outcomes and the economic well-being of North Carolina, some of these changes are well-founded.  For instance, the state’s more rigorous and in-depth standards can better prepare North Carolina’s students to be college and career-ready.  Likewise, North Carolina’s new teacher evaluation system explicitly defines what high-quality teaching looks like and gives school districts more data to make better hiring, assignment, promotion, and dismissal decisions. 

Taken together, however, more has been asked of North Carolina’s teachers without finding ways to offer them more support in return. This has contributed to decreasing enrollments in in-state teacher education programs, higher levels of attrition from the state’s teacher workforce, a public discourse critical of the teaching profession and its perceived status, and the erosion of an infrastructure to support high-quality teaching and persistence in the profession.

Moving forward, advancing the quality and retention of the North Carolina teacher workforce must be a critical priority for the state.  This means coordinating a set of interconnected policies to better recruit, prepare, develop, and retain teachers.  This means building an infrastructure for teaching and public education.  Efforts toward this end may include the following:

  • Re-instating recruitment incentives to attract more high-caliber individuals to teacher education programs and teaching.  To address disparities in the distribution of teachers, portions of such programs could target certain school districts, schools, or subject areas.
  • Enumerating a teacher compensation system that ensures a competitive level of base teacher pay; experimenting with differential pay plans, particularly with feedback and buy-in from teachers; and providing a framework for school districts to alter compensation schedules to meet the needs and challenges of the district.
  • Requiring in-state teacher education programs to be nationally accredited and to commit to raising admissions standards, providing higher-quality student teaching experiences, demonstrating the impact of their graduates on K-12 outcomes, and engaging in the use of data and evidence for continuous program improvement.
  • Providing high-quality, comprehensive induction support services to all teachers in their early-career period. 
  • Ensuring a competitive level of funding for public education and for high-quality programs that support a robust infrastructure for effective teaching.

In all of these efforts, North Carolina should be committed to conducting rigorous research and using evidence to inform policy decisions.  A commitment to evidence and to building an infrastructure for teaching will help the state advance the quality and retention of its teachers.

 

About the Author
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Kevin C. Bastian is a Research Associate at UNC Chapel Hill who specializes in research on North Carolina’s teachers and school leaders.  Bastian's research interests include education policy and evaluation and teacher and school leader preparation, labor markets, and effectiveness. In his current position, Bastian works collaboratively with the UNC system to conduct research and improve the quality of teachers and school leaders prepared in North Carolina. Previously, Bastian taught sixth grade reading and language arts in North Carolina and earned his Ph.D. in public policy from UNC Chapel Hill.

 

References
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[i] Of the 7,704 teachers receiving their initial teaching credentials in North Carolina in the 2012-13 school year, the latest year in which federal Title II data are available, 2,754 of them—approximately 36 percent—completed their teacher preparation in another state (US Department of Education, 2014).

[ii] This lateral entry policy helped ease the way for eastern North Carolina to become an original placement site for Teach For America (TFA) in 1990.  Since that time, TFA has expanded to serve three regions of the state—Eastern North Carolina, Charlotte, and the Piedmont/Triad.  With the support of Race to the Top funding, TFA has recently scaled up its presence in North Carolina, and as of the 2014-15 school year, had 540 corps members placed in the state’s highest-need schools.

[iii] These programs include the North Carolina Teaching Fellows, the Prospective Teachers Scholarship Loan, the Future Teachers of North Carolina, and the Forgivable Education Loans for Service.  The Teaching Fellows, Prospective Teachers Scholarship Loan, and Future Teachers of North Carolina are no longer funded by the state.

[iv] Both these programs were funded by North Carolina’s $400 million Race to the Top grant.  The DST program, which started prior to Race to the Top, provides services to all teachers in turnaround schools, while the NC NTSP targets its resources on teachers in their first-, second-, or third-year of teaching.

[v] Drops in teacher education enrollment vary by region/labor market and are likely driven by a number of factors.  These include (1) the weak economy during the Great Recession which precipitated a number of teacher layoffs and signaled that teaching was not as reliable a profession as in the past and (2) negative perceptions of the teaching profession.


[1] Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (2013). Ensuring fair and reliable measures of effective teaching:  Culminating findings from the MET Project’s Three-Year Study.  Available from:  http://www.metproject.org/downloads/MET_Ensuring_Fair_and_Reliable_Measures_Practitioner_Brief.pdf

[2] National Education Association. (2014).  Rankings and estimates:  Rankings of the states 2013 and estimates of school statistics 2014.  Available from:  http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/NEA-Rankings-and-Estimates-2013-2014.pdf

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