Earlier this month, I attended the UNC Tomorrow Commission’s final listening session at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. For the past six months, the commission has been touring and soliciting suggestions from citizens on how UNC might work with businesses and communities to help redress the many challenges currently facing the state. One of these challenges, referred to in a ten minute opening video, is North Carolina’s need for 34,000 new public school teachers by 2014. That’s a significant shortfall and a serious problem. However, as I sat and listened, it was hard not to think that much of the current “crisis” was self inflicted.
Low teacher-student ratios (one of Governor Easley’s favorite initiatives and largely based on the results of inconclusive research) have artificially inflated the need for more classrooms and teachers. Student class size regulations have placed a heavy burden on growing school districts. Granting temporary waivers to school districts or increasing class size regulations by merely one student can provide immediate relief and more reasonably spread out the costs of growth. In addition to class size regulations, cumbersome teacher certification requirements have made it nearly impossible for qualified individuals to use their skills and experiences in the classroom. A number of states like New Hampshire and California have shown the way by developing new alternative teacher certification programs that speed the process of getting trained teachers in the classroom. The teacher shortage is a serious issue. We’d be wise to remember the policies that helped get us here, but also not ignore those that do much to help us move on.