NC State assistant education dean talks about enrollment trends

Posted August 22

Michael Maher, NC State assistant dean for professional education and accreditation

WRAL News education reporter Kelly Hinchcliffe sat down with Michael Maher, an assistant dean at N.C. State's College of Education, last fall for an in-depth interview about enrollment in teacher preparation programs. Below are excerpts of Maher's responses, which have been edited for length and clarity.

Paige Christianson Enrollment up in UNC system teaching programs after years of decline

'A big portion of this decline is Teaching Fellows'

When you look at the overall decline (from 2010 to 2015), I think there are a couple different messages. So, we know nationally that there’s about a 30 percent decline in teacher preparation across the nation. Some of the bigger places, like California, are seeing smaller numbers of people. The Midwest tends to be the biggest producers of teachers, and I’m not sure that they’re seeing huge declines. But when you look at states that are having issues, you see about a 30 percent drop.

For us, a big portion of this decline is Teaching Fellows (The N.C. Teaching Fellows scholarship program prepared more than 8,000 North Carolina teachers from 1986 to 2015. The state began dismantling the program in 2011 and has now approved a revised version of the program.)

Teaching Fellows was a program run from the mid 80s. It was a loan scholarship program housed at several campuses across the state. Those students would then get scholarships to attend a teacher preparation program. The scholarships I think initially would cover the entire tuition, but as tuition rose, the scholarship didn’t necessarily rise along with it. But it would cover a good portion of it. So for a lot of students, that scholarship made the difference in whether or not they wanted to become a teacher. Not every school in the state had one, and several private schools had them as well.

We would take 50 per year. A lot of other campuses had 45, and then it would go down from there depending on the size of the campus. Our decline wouldn’t have been quite so precipitous (if Teaching Fellows wasn't cut.)

I’m sure members of the General Assembly who decided to do away with it had their reasons. They didn’t necessarily make those reasons known. I think the unfortunate part of the Teacher Fellows is, one, these are 500 highly motivated individuals each year who were demonstrated to be very good students academically in high school. They would come in with a four-year service commitment to North Carolina.

We know that those students persisted in far greater rates than any other pathway. So when you look at out-of-state prepared teachers, in-state prepared, lateral entry teachers, teach for America folks, everyone else, teaching fellows persisted at the highest rates. After five years, 85 percent of them were still in classrooms.

'One of the things we do really well ... is our use of data'

One of the things we do really well as compared to other places is our use of data. So we’re known for being a campus that utilizes all available data to make decisions. One of the things we were able to do a couple years ago was get a roster of everyone teaching in the state of North Carolina who was an N.C. State graduate. And then we took that roster and bumped it up against our graduation roster to figure out which students had entered teaching and which ones were still there.

So, over a three-year period, those who had entered the teaching force, about 93 percent of them remained in the teaching force for three years. Now, what’s happened since then, I’m not quite sure.

We know, in general, about 85 percent of our students are getting licensed, about 80 percent are going into public school teaching in North Carolina. Some percentage are going out of state, and those folks are really hard to track. The tracking is always … that’s a new issue for us. Basically, our licensure person emails them and calls them and says, "Hey, what are you doing now?"

One of our points of emphasis this year is graduate follow up. We’re working really hard to figure out and develop a database of alums and where they are to try to get a sense of who’s teaching where and for how long.

Because we recommend them for licenses, we have a roster of those who have applied for licenses. In years past, we’ve been able to get a salary roster from DPI, usually in November, and what it’ll give you is all the individuals who are N.C. State graduates, where they’re teaching and how much experience they have. We can kind of back map then to try to figure out when they graduated.

About 65 percent of our graduates end up in Wake County. Of the remaining 35 percent, they’re split between, a larger proportion in Johnston and then Durham and then everywhere else.

'It's been about targeted recruitment'

We have an Office of Student Services, so I don’t handle recruitment specifically. My colleague does. But part of our recruitment is we had a college recruiter, somebody their job is to go out and talk with students and convince them to come here, so we are now in between recruiters so hopefully we’ll be able to hire a new recruiter. But for us, really it’s been about targeted recruitment and then to some degree, persistence.

Our admissions folks know where our current students come from in terms of which high schools are the biggest producers of students in teacher education for us. We make visits to those high schools and meet with prospective students who want to become teachers. I actually visited Wakefield High School yesterday and met with a class of students who think they might want to be teachers. They all fill out information cards for us. We do that in various high schools, in the big draw high schools and some other schools that may or may not normally be a big pull for us. That includes early child ed classes that might be in a school. Some schools have teacher cadet programs. We visit them.

Once we have identified prospective students, then someone on the campus follows up with them pretty regularly. One of our admissions folks or our advisors will call those students, they’ll email them, we have faculty members who will contact from a program. Most of it is inviting them to campus. We have an open house. What we find is if we can get students to our open house, we can get them to apply. Once we get them to open house, we can show them the value that we provide.

A challenge for us is N.C. State’s a selective institution. So it’s not necessarily easy to get in. I think our average SAT score last year for elementary ed was 1260, which is pretty amazing when you think about it. The average high school weighted GPA was a 4.36. So we take high achieving kids. We bring them into our college. We prepare them really well, and we produce some really good teachers. We feel like we can make the case to people that what we’re providing you is really high quality.

In terms of the quality, we’ve not seen a dip in quality. I’ve been here nine years. Over those nine years, our SAT scores have been consistent, ACT scores, GPA, percentage of students in the top 10 percent of their class. That’s all been consistent. So we’ve not seen a dip in terms of the quality of the folks coming to us. There are just fewer of them. That’s what makes it more challenging. So now that that pool has shrunk and we’re competing with others for that same pool of people. We’re trying to out compete, and I don’t necessarily want to do that. We want a large pool.

'Children of teachers aren't necessarily becoming teachers'

The other thing that’s been hard – our open houses, historically, I would go and speak to parents of the students coming in. And one of the things I would always ask them was how many parents are teachers? Five, six, seven years ago, tons of hands, the majority of hands would go up in the room. And now when you ask that question, it’s not.

There are a lot of teachers right now who, I don’t want to say aren’t encouraging their children to become teachers, but the children of teachers aren’t necessarily becoming teachers, which is what we saw, at least here over the past several years. You can only speculate why that is. But I think that kind of gets at some of this climate stuff. If teachers are unhappy, then that’s going to go home, and why would you encourage your child to become a teacher. That’s just an anecdotal thing. It just kind of stands out to me the more I think about that.

I get a lot of questions from parents about, essentially, why should I let my child become a teacher? Part of it is economically driven. So a parent will say, "I’m going to send my student to N.C. State, and we’re going to pay $15,000 a year, and when they graduate, they may or may not have debt and they are going to make $30,000, $35,000 now. Right?" Well, $35,000 might not be a terrible salary for a 21- or 22-year-old. Five years down the line when you’re making $38,000.

The issue for a place like N.C. State, I think there’s a perception that individuals fall into teaching. I was going to do this, but I decided to become a teacher, right? Well, here, the students who come into the college of education have the option to do anything. It’s not like they fell into education. They chose to come to my college. They could have chosen to go to engineering, they could have chosen to go to management, they could have chosen to go to math or science or somewhere else, and we know that students who are graduating in math and engineering are making $70,000.

For some of these folks who become teachers, they may never make $70,000 a year. That can be a hard sell for somebody. And we’re asking them to be passionate and committed and do all these great things, but when it comes to compensation … you know.

You read a lot about what's going on in education, whether it’s arguments over salaries or climate or working conditions or whatever it might be. So we really need to get past all the noise to get people to commit to a profession that we think is really important.

'We graduate among the most effective teachers'

When you look at teacher effectiveness and program effectiveness, we graduate among the most effective teachers in the state of North Carolina. Using both teacher performance data – so, we get data from the state of North Carolina for teachers in their first three years, and so that’s essentially ratings from principals. We also get value add data – so how student perform in classrooms for our graduates.

So when we look at student performance data and when we look at data from teacher performance, we survey employers and we survey graduates about their preparation, and consistently, the data we get back points to the effectiveness of the programs that we run. So, we are able to sell on our effectiveness. If you come here, you are going to be a well-prepared teacher.

In terms of licensing exams, the elementary licensing exam is pretty rigorous. The pass rate for the state is now about 66 percent, and we had a 100 percent pass rate (in 2015). Anytime we have these metrics of quality, we’re easily able to demonstrate effectiveness. So I don’t feel like we need to sell our programs any more than we already do. For us, it’s really about finding passionate, committed young people who want to become teachers.

'We recruit heavily for STEM teachers'

(We recruit all types of teachers), but we certainly do have an emphasis. We recruit heavily for STEM teachers. Math and science, we’re a huge producer. We have historically been the largest producers of STEM teachers for the state of North Carolina.

We have an elementary ed program, and we recruit men. So, looking for young men who want to become elementary teachers – traditionally, not a huge population of people. And then students of color, understanding that the demographics of public schools change and are going to continue to change. More than half of children in public schools in North Carolina are children of color. But about 86 percent of our teachers are white, middle class and most of them are female.

So, thinking about how do we diversify our population of teacher candidates so that we can hopefully diversify the teaching force? And that matters. That’s another one of those issues. How do I convince students of color to become teachers when they have these other options open to them?

'About 2 percent of our student teachers don't finish'

We know that our first year retention rate is about 94 percent (for the College of Education). N.C. State University I think is pretty high as well. I think it’s in the 80s. In terms of the national picture, those numbers are pretty fantastic.

About 2 percent of our student teachers don’t finish. It falls into two categories. We have some students who get that far along and when it actually comes down to the teaching, they don’t want to do it, can’t do it, have decided it’s not for them. A lot of times they don’t anticipate how challenging the work really is. It’s both physically and mentally demanding, which is the part that people don’t realize either. When you’re a student teacher, you’re basically expected to fulfill the role of teacher. Our students start their day when teachers start the day. They leave when teachers leave. They go to parent conferences. They go to open house. They go to sporting events and PTA meetings and IEP meetings. They’re really immersed in the role.

(They do not get paid for being a student teacher). So that’s another one of those debt burden things … Many of our students work during their career here, but we strongly discourage them from working during student teaching. I can’t outright deny them, but we strongly encourage them not to work. Because what we find is students who try to work and student teach do neither well. So there’s a cost burden there because these are students who are often either paying their way through college, paying for their housing because they don’t live on campus and so now we’ve asked them to take loans out for their student teaching semester.

'We’re working really hard to redefine what it means to be a teacher'

We’re working really hard to redefine what it means to be a teacher. One of the things that research will tell you is that teachers tend to teach in the way in which they were taught. But that’s not what we’re trying to do here. So, for example, the way that I was taught to do math is not the most effective way to teach math based on what we know about how children learn.

The critique of Common Core was, well, I can’t help my kids with their math anymore. I want them to know the tricks, or I want them to know the shortcuts. Because that’s what I learned as a kid. But if you ask me now how to do some of that math, I can’t do it. As an adult, I can’t do it because I don’t remember those algorithms and I don’t have a deep conceptual understanding of the mathematics behind it so that I can rediscover the algorithms.

One of the things we do here is we teach elementary teachers how to teach math conceptually so that children understand the concept behind why you do it that way so it’s not about the tricks. It’s about deep understanding of mathematics … That’s a new way to think about math … It’s not about teaching them facts. They can Google it. It’s about teaching them ideas and thinking.

I think this notion that anybody can become a teacher or teaching is easy is so misguided because it’s so much more complex today than it was even 10 years ago. If I wanted to decide tomorrow that I wanted to go back to the classroom, I would need at least a year of retooling. And I have a Ph.D in education. And I do the best that I can to stay up to date with what’s going on in schools and in teaching.

'I don’t know that there’s a more rewarding profession'

There are a couple things I certainly try to sell. One is I don’t know that there’s a more rewarding profession. You hear that a lot. It is. To actually have the opportunity to make the difference in the lives of children matters. It’s meaningful work, and I think people are always searching for meaningful work. And teachers engage in meaningful work every day. So, that’s one of the selling points.

The other piece I often talk to parents about is teaching provides young people with the kinds of skills that are transferrable to any profession. So if they go into teaching and they stick with it for three or four years or five years or seven years and they decide after that point, you know what, I’m going to move on now, I’m ready to do something else, they have learned how to manage a room full of people. They’ve learned how to communicate well. They’ve learned how to manage their time. They’ve learned how to learn because often when they’re developing lesson plans, they’re our learning new stuff that they may not have learned in college or they may have to brush up. And it’s very different from learning something in college to having to teach it to someone else.

I tend to be kind of an eternal optimist, that at some point we’re going to see the real value in teachers and compensate them appropriately.


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