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Editorial: The politics of teaching

More than 40 graduates of the Teaching Fellows program taught in the Rowan-Salisbury School System in 2009-10. How many of them would have gone into education ó would have been able to ó without the free college education the program gave them?
Thereís no way to know. But the imminent phasing out of the Teaching Fellows program to save the state $13.5 million a year ends what has been an effective training and recruiting tool for the state. Once again, an innovative North Carolina program held up as a model for others is being dismantled. Sadly, this fallís freshman class of fellows will be the last.
Back when the Teaching Fellows program started in 1986, North Carolina was in the early stages of a teacher shortage. The state needed to lift the profession in the eyes of prospective teachers and help them get college degrees. It worked. Through the years, the recruitment program has produced nearly 6,500 teachers. To repay their $26,000 scholarship, they are expected to teach in the state for four years. Competition for the slots is fierce. The scholastic profile of 2010 recipients included an average SAT score of 1186 and GPA of 4.3.
Now the Republican-led legislature is taking North Carolina in a new direction. Instead of urging more people into the teaching field ó even promoting lateral entry from other professions ó education leaders have had to nudge some out because of shrinking budgets. Young people who require help becoming teachers need not apply.
The Teaching Fellow phase-out is not all about the budget. Bob Luebke, a senior policy analyst with the Civitas Institute, told The News & Observer some legislators were concerned that the Teaching Fellows Program was administered by the N.C. Public School Forum, a nonprofit group he called ěa recruitment areaî for the N.C. Association of Educators. A political undercurrent is at work here.
When Salisbury Post reporter Sarah Campbell interviewed local Teaching Fellows in January, she found them adjusting to changing budget realities. Katie King went to work at Corriher-Lipe Middle School, though she had hoped to teach elementary school. Linley Evans, a college junior, dropped her dance major in favor of a more practical consumer-sciences major. They feel the call to teach, and theyíre adjusting to economic realities. But no adjustment can change lawmakersí politics.
Rowan-Salisbury is advertising about 30 openings for teachers on its website, so jobs have not completely evaporated. The influx of Teaching Fellows soon will, however ó a $13.5 million-a-year ěsavingsî that could cost the state hundreds of well-prepared teachers each year. ěTeacher effectivenessî is the latest buzz phrase in education circles. Letís make ělegislator effectivenessî a slogan for the 2012 elections.

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