RALEIGH – The University of North Carolina could boost its teacher-training programs by starting charter schools at most UNC campuses. That’s the key recommendation in a new John Locke Foundation Spotlight report.
“UNC President Erskine Bowles has an opportunity to demonstrate unprecedented leadership in improving teacher education in North Carolina,” said study author Terry Stoops, JLF Education Policy Analyst. “UNC can be the first state university system to create a statewide network of charter schools that use the demonstration-school model to improve the quality of teacher education.”
Bowles has signaled his interest in teacher education, Stoops said. “He placed teacher education at the top of his reform agenda during his April 2006 inaugural address,” Stoops said. “His concerns included teacher supply and teacher quality. UNC is taking more steps now to increase the number of teachers, but the university system has initiated few efforts to strengthen teacher quality via teacher-education programs.”
A 2006-2007 Institutions of Higher Education survey shows UNC’s teacher education programs have room for improvement, Stoops said. “Individual campus results varied, but taken together survey results indicate many teachers are not satisfied with the training they received in the areas of classroom management and instructional delivery,” he said. “Along with content knowledge, these are the most critical aspects of teaching.”
That’s why charter schools connected to UNC system campuses could help, Stoops said. “Educators have known for years about the value of demonstration or laboratory schools that provide future teachers the practical experience necessary to be successful in the classroom,” he said. “The only UNC campus that operates a demonstration school now is Elizabeth City State University, and that small school serves only children from ages three to five.”
ECSU’s existing laboratory school could provide a general model for charter demonstration schools at all 15 UNC campuses that offer teacher training, Stoops said. “Teachers would gain insight about the educational and behavioral characteristics of children, and they would practice, assess, and improve their own instructional practices and classroom-management skills,” he said. “They could test assumptions and concepts learned in their UNC classes, and they could learn how to adapt content knowledge to classroom instruction. All the while, the children would enjoy an exceptional learning environment.”
The General Assembly has capped North Carolina’s total number of charter schools at 100, and the university would need legislative help to lift the cap, Stoops said. “Working to add at least 15 charter school slots for the new demonstration schools would be worth the effort,” he said. “Charter schools are tuition-free public schools that have more freedom than traditional public schools, even though they’re still required to meet certain state regulations.”
“Because of the freedom, the university and local taxpayers could share the costs of funding the school,” he added. “State testing would keep the schools accountable and demonstrate the effectiveness or deficiencies of teacher training. The new schools would help meet public demand for charter schools across the state. And research has shown that competition from charter schools would raise the performance substantially in nearby public district schools.”
Terry Stoops’ Spotlight report, “Why UNC Needs Charter Schools: Charter Demonstration Schools Can Improve Teacher Education,” is available at the JLF web site. For more information, please contact Stoops at (919) 828-3876 or [email protected]. To arrange an interview, contact Mitch Kokai at (919) 306-8736 or [email protected].