Luring the best N.C. teachers

“Nearly 50 percent of all teachers who enter the field leave it within a mere five years, and the best and brightest teachers are often the first to leave.” This was the conclusion reached by Robin Henke, Xianglei Chen, and Sonya Geis in a 2000 National Center for Education Statistics study of the teacher pipeline.

This startling realization raises questions: Do our brightest and best college graduates go into the education profession? If not, how can we get them interested? Once the brightest and best are in teaching, can we get them to stay?

Top students not educators

The 2008 SAT Reasoning Test results seem to confirm that our top academic high school students are not going into education.

The highest possible score for the combined three components – reading, math, and writing – is 2400.

Nationally, there was a 76 point difference between the average for all high school students taking the test (1511) and the average for those indicating they want to major in education (1435). In North Carolina, the average SAT score for all high school seniors was 1489; the average for those going into education in college was only a 1437.

When compared to scores of students indicating other most frequently mentioned college majors, education majors had the lowest average combined SAT scores.

This is alarming since our students, community, and nation are dependent upon knowledgeable and effective teachers preparing students for a productive life in the 21st century. But, North Carolina is betting it has found one solution to bringing our state's brightest and best into the classroom – the Teaching Fellows Program.

Using the most recent SAT results for our college freshmen, it appears the Program indeed is succeeding. N.C. Teaching Fellows averaged 1173 for the combined SAT reading and math sections. This compares to an average of 1007 for all N.C. high school seniors and 968 for all those indicating education as a major.

Begun in 1986, the Teaching Fellows Program is found at 18 N.C. colleges and universities. Its purpose is to recruit talented high school graduates into teaching and provide opportunities to develop skills and knowledge necessary to be an effective teacher – a teacher prepared to enter and remain in the classroom.

Each year, the program provides 500 outstanding N.C. high school seniors a $6,500 per year scholarship for four years, totaling $26,000 for their college career. Private universities and colleges in the program match the $6,500 per year for their students.

Recipients typically are in the top 10 percent of their high school graduating class and top quartile of seniors taking the SAT test. In return, the student agrees to teach for four years in a N.C. public school or U.S. government school in North Carolina.

The Teaching Fellows Program also appears to reduce the teacher turnover rate, particularly in those first few years of the teacher's career. Research shows experienced teachers tend to have higher student achievement, but many new teachers leave before they gain that experience. Typically 40 percent of new teachers leave teaching before their fifth year of teaching; for the Teaching Fellows, this percentage drops to 26 percent.

Saving taxpayers money

Also, reducing teacher turnover saves taxpayers money. Every time a teacher is hired to fill a vacant classroom, there are large financial costs associated with recruiting, hiring, training, providing mentors, and even giving incentives for hard to fill jobs, etc. Based upon the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future work, the estimated cost for replacing a teacher in North Carolina is about $13,000.

The N.C. Department of Public Instruction indicates in 2007-08 there were 6,856 new educators in North Carolina. If 40 percent (national average) leave after four years, the cost would be approximately $35.7 million. Were that turnover percentage cut to 26 percent, as it is with the Teaching Fellows, the cost would be about $23.2 million – a savings of $12.5 million for our state's taxpayers. And this does not include the “intangible” savings for the students or even the savings due to less remedial education needed due to more effective teachers.

Win-win-win for taxpayers

The facts are there. The Teaching Fellows Program appears to be working. The Program incentivizes some of our state's brightest high school students into choosing education as a profession and helps reduce teacher turnover rates through those first crucial years of teaching.

It's a win-win-win for taxpayers, teachers, and most importantly for students.

In Charlotte, both Queens University of Charlotte and UNC Charlotte have the Teaching Fellows Program. For more information and to see which other campuses offer this Program, see