Collaboration and Compromise: The Key to Good Policy Making

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE.

The Legislative Long Session in North Carolina this year was, in many ways, a productive one for education, generating a number of consequential bills that became law.  Included in the slate was the reintroduction of the Teaching Fellows program, thanks to a collaborative effort led by Senator Chad Barefoot and the North Carolina Association of Colleges and Teacher Educators (NCACTE).

The original North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program was established in 1986 as one of the first loan-forgiveness programs for future teachers. The program selected the “best and brightest” high school students in the state and supported them as they prepared to become teachers in any field of study. Over its history, the program prepared about 10,000 public school teachers by providing scholarships to attend one of 17 public or private traditional preparation programs. The students who became Teaching Fellows were among the strongest high school graduates academically and represented a more diverse profile than the average teacher education student. These graduates not only went on to become some of North Carolina’s most effective teachers, but they persisted at far greater rates than any other group, with a 5-year retention rate of 73%. In 2011, the program was discontinued by the North Carolina General Assembly. I wrote about the program in 2012 on the blog This Week in Education, specifically noting its positive impact.

In the ensuing years, I continued to advocate for the reintroduction of the program with specific changes. Last year, Dean Hank Weddington of Lenoir-Rhyne University and I reached out to a number of state legislators in an attempt to advocate for teacher preparation on behalf of NCACTE, and we found a willing partner in Senator Barefoot. After a lengthy discussion with the senator, I learned of his desire to improve not only public schools but also teacher preparation, and to do so in a collaborative manner with NCACTE. 

The 2017 Teaching Fellows program that he introduced, funded in the compromise appropriations act S257, reestablishes the program, with modifications, under an independent commission administered by the University of North Carolina General Administration. The fellows will be selected using multiple measures to identify the “best and brightest” and will draw from an expanded pool that includes high school students, community college and 4-year college transfers, and postbaccalaureate students. Fellows will be supported as they prepare to become a teacher in math, science, or special education at one of five teacher preparation programs. The new program incentivizes graduates who choose to work in low-performing schools and districts by shortening the payback period. This program will fund approximately 160 fellows with $6 million in recurring funds.

Fortunately for teacher preparation in North Carolina, NCACTE was involved in the development of this and many other bills proposed.  We’re grateful to Senator Barefoot for seeing past the negative rhetoric around teacher preparation and seeing us as a viable partner. The process we engaged in this year wasn’t about “winning” and “losing” so much as the collaboration and compromise to achieve common goals. Are we pleased with every aspect of the new laws/policies? Of course not—but that would be an unrealistic expectation to have. We often hear that “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” and I am glad to say it is a far better position to have a seat at the table now.

North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program Features, 1986 and 2017


1986 program features

2017 program features

Number of scholarships annually


Approximately 160

Recruitment population

High school students                                     

– High school students
– Community college students
– Intracampus transfers
– Postbaccalaureate students    

Number of eligible institutions of higher education



Eligible discipline areas


– Math
– Science
– Special education

Eligible districts for employment with payback


All, but fellows earn more rapid payback if they work in low-performing schools/districts

Michael Maher is assistant dean for professional education and accreditation at North Carolina State University and vice president of the North Carolina Association for Colleges and Teacher Educators.

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Michael Maher

Assistant Dean for Professional Education and Accreditation, North Carolina State University