Jenna Robinson of the Martin Center devotes her latest column to a new partnership addressing North Carolina’s teacher shortage.

Pathway to Practice is a new online, competency-based program for lateral-entry teachers in North Carolina, offered jointly by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University. The program takes 12 to 18 months to complete and tuition is less than $5,000 per student. In its first year, 54 students have enrolled from two dozen rural and urban districts across the state, including Wake, Charlotte/Mecklenburg, Cullowhee, McDowell, and Tyrrell.

The program was created to help address North Carolina’s teacher shortage, particularly in rural and low-income counties, by providing a new avenue for licensing teachers. “Lateral entry” teachers are individuals who have content knowledge and have been hired to fill teaching vacancies but aren’t yet licensed to teach in North Carolina. The students enrolled in the program are already working in classrooms across the state. Focusing on lateral entry is an innovation in itself: more than 90 percent of North Carolina teachers come through traditional bachelor’s degrees programs in schools of education. Only about 4.5 percent of North Carolina’s teachers make a lateral entry into the profession—often later in life as a second career.

One of the program’s creators, professor Diana B. Lys of UNC-Chapel Hill, is particularly excited that lateral-entry programs can have an immediate effect on the classroom. “Growing traditional teacher preparation programs may yield results in 2-4 years, [which is] still needed and still incredibly valuable. But with Pathways to Practice we are able to support lateral entry teachers in classrooms today, working with NC school children,” she said.