North Carolina faces a number of inter-related problems that make it difficult to get enough well trained educators in schools. For starters, the state needs more educators licensed in specific areas including science, math, special education and middle school -- and this is the case at a time when college enrollment in North Carolina public universities has declined 27.6 percent since 2010. Such a large drop in enrollment represents a potential crisis for the future supply of teachers.
At the same time, the 12 sources where schools typically hire educators don't always produce the same quality of graduates that North Carolina public schools need in the classroom. Along with public universities, some of these sources include private and independent universities in the state, out-of-state universities and specialized programs such as Teach for America.
But there is hope on the horizon in a new data tool that will help North Carolina universities, policymakers and the public figure out how to solve these educator quality problems.
"It's really important for the University of North Carolina, the state's public university system, to step up to the plate and prepare more teachers and turn this decline in enrollments around so that North Carolina can be less dependent on supply sources that don't yield the quality of preparation or teaching that we aspire to have in our public schools," said Alisa Chapman, vice president for academic and university programs at the University of North Carolina.
But the university system also needs to make sure those educators are distributed evenly across the state. Right now, more quality educators congregate in urban areas, where schools can offer salary supplements and attract younger educators. That leaves rural schools at a disadvantage with fewer quality teachers.
This new data visualization tool, however, can help North Carolina leaders bring these problems to light in a way that's easy to understand and that can be customized for each person who views the data. The UNC Teacher Quality Dashboard is one of a number of data dashboards that the University of North Carolina system has been working on with business analytics company SAS to increase transparency, measure productivity and promote accountability in the education pipeline.
"Our partnership with the Department of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education allows us to have a rich longitudinal data set on employment outcomes that are harder to obtain in other academic disciplines," Chapman said, "because the workforce is dispersed among private companies and not in a concentrated employment workforce like we have for teachers."
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This dashboard includes data on education enrollment trends, teacher productivity, clinical experiences, and time-to-degree completion for the university system as a whole and for individual colleges. For example, 107 Fayetteville State University students took an average of 5.39 years to earn their bachelor's degree in 2013-2014, while their 479 peers at Appalachian State University took 3.85 years.
When students stay in college longer, they can't fill school jobs as quickly, leaving K-12 students waiting for quality teachers. Once schools are able to hire college graduates, then they have to figure out how to retain them. If schools provide more support for teachers in their first few years, they likely could hold onto them longer, which means that universities won't have to scramble to train thousands of new teachers to fill workforce gaps.
Chapman said she hopes this dashboard will help them address education problems in different and more powerful ways:
1. Universities will be more transparent by making data available to anyone who's interested in helping improve the public education system in North Carolina.
2. Deans of education at public universities will be more accountable for their results because the public can see how they're doing.
3. Under-represented schools and students have been a critical issue for the state, and this dashboard could potentially engage more people who are willing to tackle these problems.
"We don't want to shy away from those areas where we're struggling," Chapman said. "We want to shine a light on them, and we want problem solvers thinking about solutions."